Why Best Before Dates should be banned, but aren’t
Grocery shopping can be hard, and choosing the right items can be even more difficult. Take a loaf of bread for example, I often question myself, why must a whole loaf of bread, have a best before date of less than 3 days? Especially when it is highly unlikely that I would be able to finish the whole loaf before then. That was before I had researched in depth of the difference betweenbest before dates and expiry dates.
In reality both terms inform the consumer of the necessary requirements of when to safely consume the product by. However both terminologies mean completely different things when it comes to the actual shelf life or food safety of the product. We as a society, lack the full knowledge to determine the difference between a best before dateversus an expiry date.
Did you know that there are only five types of products that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency mandates to be labelled with an expiration date?
The five products include: (1) Baby formula and other human milk substitutes; (2) Nutritional supplements; (3) Meal Replacements; (4) Pharmacist-sold foods for very low-energy diets and, (5) Formulated liquid diets. This also means that other foods such as dairy and grain products do not necessarily require an expiry date. To add to this, consumers like myself if not known to basic food safety, may not be aware of what is perishable or not.
Today, what Canadians would be surprised to find that, it is not illegal for a grocery store to sell a product if its best before date has passed. One may argue that this is unfair for the consumer, who is unaware of what product they are purchasing, and of the possibility of its food safety. Truth is, when this date has passed the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may also change. In fact, some of its nutritional value, such as vitamin C content, may also be lost. To make it plain and simple, we can still eat food that has passed it’s best before date. Meaning, it is ultimately the discretion of the individual purchasing the food item when determining its shelf life.
In addition with the lack of knowledge of best before dates, research suggests Canadians are among the biggest food-wasters in the world. A recent study found every Canadian lost or wasted almost 400 kilograms of food a year. A lot of that waste – 47% –happens at home. What does this essentially mean statistically? Approximately half our waste is food waste, partially due to consumers being unaware of what best before dates signify.
This poses another question to the consumer, should we really be throwing it out? It shouldn’t be the case, since any changes according to Section 5 of the Food and Drugs Act misleading information on food products and their best before date or durable life information is prohibited. We as consumers must remember that best before markings are about retention of quality timelines, after which that product may lose its texture and flavour, not about food safety.
In order to rectify the situation, we as consumers need to acknowledge that best before dates are simply not expiry dates, and to consider them the same, will signify the lack of information that is already given towards us. In which, we have no one else to blame when a food safety litigation persists.
A better understanding of the shelf life labels that refer to food safety and best before dates, referring to food quality, should be promoted via government informational campaigns. An increased understanding and corresponding consumer behaviour in respecting shelf life dates and labels should lead in due time, to reduce food safety risk and reduce food waste. Thus, these actions and behaviours should contribute to a more sustainable food supply chain. To aid to this, the success of informational campaigns depend on a whole range of elements such as consumer knowledge, socio-cultural factors and use of the appropriate communication media.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency must associate with the public health authorities that rule out these regulations, to alter the policies in order to mandate not only the manufacturers, but the general public as well. In part, this may mean to ban best before dates in order to rectify food safety and food wastage. This goes back to my initial question, why must a whole loaf of bread, have a best before date of less than 3 days? I guess you can say it’s up for the general public to be aware of best before datesversusexpiry dates, even if this is not the case.
By Lara Samonte
4th Year Human Nutritional Sciences Student
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