Best-before and expiration dates of foods: what you should know

Last updated:

  • Product: Foods with best-before and expiration dates.    
  • Issue: Important information on best-before and expiration dates of foods.
  • What to do: Best-before dates and expiration dates are not the same. You can buy and eat foods after the best-before date has passed. However, foods that are likely to spoil should be stored properly and they should be eaten as quickly as possible. Do not buy or eat foods if their expiration date has passed.

Issue

As many Canadians are limiting their grocery trips and using up the food they have at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Canada is providing them with important information on best-before and expiration dates of foods.

The best-before date indicates to consumers that if the product has been properly handled (i.e., stored under conditions appropriate to that product), the unopened product should be of high quality until the specified date. Best-before dates are about food quality and not food safety. Once opened, the food’s shelf life may change. For example, because of the potential for contamination, once a package of lunchmeat is open, for safety reasons, it should be consumed in 3-5 days. You can’t tell whether food is unsafe by its smell or taste.

Best-before dates must be identified using the words “best before” and “meilleur avant” grouped together with the date, unless a clear explanation of the significance of the best-before date appears elsewhere on the label. The best-before date may appear anywhere on the package. If it is placed on the bottom, this has to be indicated elsewhere on the label.

An expiration date is not the same as a best-before date. Expiration dates are required only on certain foods, such as meal replacements or nutritional supplements. These types of foods have strict compositional and nutritional specifications that may not be met after the expiration date. After the expiration date, the food may not have the same nutrient content as declared on the label.

What you should do

  • You can buy and eat foods after the best-before date has passed. However, foods that are likely to spoil should be stored properly, and they should be eaten as quickly as possible.
  • For information on how long different foods can be stored in the fridge or freezer, visit our website.
  • Do not buy or eat foods if their expiration date has passed.
  • Report any food safety or labelling concerns to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Related links

Health Canada
(613) 957-2983

Public enquiries

(613) 957-2991
1-866 225-0709

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *