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Food reaching its best-before date? Some items last longer than you think

Best before and expiry dates: how to read them
WATCH: Best-before and expiry dates — how to read them

The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives — including how we shop for groceries.

Some people may have overbought certain items, or have foods nearing their best-before dates and are unsure if they’re safe to consume.

Others may be pulling out dusty pantry items from the back of their cupboards for baking projects.

“Many people’s understanding of both the best-before and expiration date is that food is spoiled or unsafe to eat once that date has passed,” said Emily Tam, a Toronto-based registered dietitian.

READ MORE: Many people are baking through the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how it helps

“Many foods, provided that they have been stored properly, retain their quality and safety way beyond their labelled best-before date.”

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According to the Government of Canada, “best-before” dates tell you when the “durable life period of a prepackaged food ends.” Durable life means the amount of time that an unopened food product will retain its freshness, taste and nutritional value if stored properly.

Expiry dates, on the other hand, are different.

The government says expiration dates are required only on certain foods that have “strict compositional and nutritional specifications which might not be met after the expiration date.”

How to increase your food security during the COVID-19 pandemic
How to increase your food security during the COVID-19 pandemic

These foods include baby formula and nutritional supplements. It is not advisable to eat expired foods.

But what food best-before dates should you vigilantly follow, and which have some wiggle room?

Baking and cooking supplies

As more of us are baking or cooking to pass time, we may be pulling out older supplies from our pantries.

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Items like sugar, honey, corn syrup and molasses don’t spoil, Tam said.

Nishta Saxena, a registered dietitian at Vibrant Nutrition in Toronto, previously told Global News that white flour can last about a year.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Should I disinfect groceries before bringing them into the house?

The shelf life is less for whole wheat varieties, Saxena said.

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“You can keep it in the fridge or freezer to extend shelf life, but make sure to keep it moisture-free.”

Baking soda can take on odours and lose its fizzing power, Vancouver-based registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen previously told Global News.

Likewise, “yeast can die,” Nielsen said.

“Yeast should have an expiry date that you need to stick to [and] for baking soda, count on about six months for an open package.”
Canadians look at new ways to shop for groceries amid COVID-19
Canadians look at new ways to shop for groceries amid COVID-19

When it comes to oils, Saxena said unopened oils can last for one to two years “if they are stored properly in a cool, dark place or even the fridge.”

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After opening, most oils still last for about a year in good conditions, but keep an eye out for changes in colour and smell over time.

Some oils with shorter shelf lives include sesame, grapeseed, walnut and avocado oils.

Canned foods

Canned foods can stay “perfectly edible for years,” Tam said.

“Understanding the real meaning of the best-before date will go a long way in preventing food waste,” she added.

READ MORE: Meat prices, supply could change as industry grapples with COVID-19

But for the best quality, Saxena said to use canned products within a year.

“However, low-acidity foods such as vegetables can be stored for as long as two to five years. Higher-acidity foods such as tomatoes should be used within 18 months,” she said.

Pastas and rice

Dry packaged foods can retain their quality for months after their best-before date, Tam said.

Tam says people should store common pantry staples such as dry pasta, rice, pulses and flour “in a cool, dry place to maximize their shelf life.”

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Nuts and nut butters

Unopened nut butters can stay in the pantry for a year, Saxena said.

Nut butters will last about three months in the pantry after opening, but you might start to see signs of oil separation, Saxena added.

Gardening in the age of COVID-19
Gardening in the age of COVID-19

Tam said it’s a good idea to put nuts and seeds in the refrigerator or freezer to extend their shelf life.

Saxena echoed this, and said keeping nut butters in the fridge will help them last for another three to six months.

“Look for an off-smell once it starts to go rancid,” Saxena warned.

Frozen meat, fruit and veggies

According to Food Banks Canada guidelines, frozen fruit and vegetables are good for at least a year if stored in your freezer properly.

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READ MORE: Feeling bloated? How coronavirus isolation can impact digestion

Uncooked meat can also last months in the freezer, the organization states. Ground meat is usually good for two to three months if frozen, and poultry pieces can last six months.

It’s important to note, however, that if food is not stored properly, it can be unsafe to eat. When it doubt — especially with meat —  it’s better to discard than consume if it’s passed its best-before date.

— With files from Arti Patel 

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca