SASKATOON – As the dollar continues to slip, Canadians can expect to be shelling out more at the grocery store. According to experts, there are things you can do to save yourself some big bucks in the long run and it starts with a little something called “the best before” date.
In many cases, perfectly good food ends up in the garbage after consumers prematurely toss it and confusing labels are often to blame for wasted food and money.
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“I think that the way some products are labelled it is unclear to the consumer what best before dates mean, when they should use the product, how they need to store it, etc.,” said Phyllis Shand, professor of food science at the University of Saskatchewan.
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So what is a best before date?
“In Canada, the majority of our food products if they have a shelf life of less than 90 days are mandated to have a best before date,” added Shand.
In other words, how long a product will retain its freshness. Which means you aren’t going to fall ill if you eat something on the best before date or even the day after.
“Best before dates are also an indicator of quality and not safety. Our concern about safety is more related to how we handle the food, whether it’s stored at the proper temperatures at that time,” said Shand.
You can both buy and eat foods after the “best before” has passed but it might not taste as good. Its likely either lost some freshness, flavour or the texture has changed. In some cases the nutritional value of the food such as its vitamin C content may be lost.
According to Shand, this means milk stored in a cold fridge will likely last you several more days even a week beyond its best before date. Eggs can last up to a month; however, you’d likely want to use them in baking at that point as opposed to using them for breakfast.
“For a product like ground beef, you have one day for the store to sell it and then one to two days at home before you either should cook it or freeze it for later use.”
Expiration dates are different and are typically only seen on specialty products. Meal replacements, nutritional supplements and infant formula will have an expiration date and foods should not be eaten after the date passes.
In 2014, it’s estimated the cost of Canada’s food waste reached $31 billion. The majority of that waste was driven by consumers at 47 per cent or close to $14.6 billion worth of food.
“In Saskatoon, the biggest contribution to our landfill is organics so a lot of that is food that ends up in the landfill and creates methane which is a large contributor to our environmental problem,” said Gord Enns, executive director of the Saskatoon Food Council.
“Not only do we have to handle it and haul it, we actually are contributing to environmental problems because we’re wasting food.”
Starting this spring, food waste will be accepted as part of the city’s Green Cart program. Items like fruits, vegetables, bread, eggshells and coffee grounds will now be accepted along with any grass clippings and leaves.
Enns says it’s a good start to a big problem but there are other jurisdictions that have done a lot more to encourage recycling and composting. He’d also like to see more people growing their own food and more food education provided to the public starting at grade-school level.
For now though, if consumers want to start getting serious about reducing their own food waste there’s a helpful tool you can download on your phone called The FoodKeeper.
It’s as easy as typing in a food and the app will tell you how long it should last refrigerated and/or frozen.