Best before dates are often interpreted as an absolute death sentence for the once fresh and attractive produce you bought in the supermarket. Once the date of doom hits, the food must be bad right? Time to throw it away. Wrong.

These best before dates might be useful in pointing out when a food could be going bad but are also a pesky culprit in contributing to mass food waste.

ReFED estimates that 54 million tons of food are thrown out annually as consumers discard anything past the label date.

It leads to question how much of this food was actually safe to consume and could have gone to good use?

Of course, you should make sure you are not eating food that has gone bad for very obvious reasons, but there are some myths about the best before date that you should stop believing.

Do you stop using the product the day the date hits?

Best by dates are not at all a strict limit, they often are simply just the date that the manufacturer cannot guarantee the freshness of the product.

Many foods are still perfectly safe and fresh well beyond their ‘best by’ date, a quick smell and look at the produce will suffice in most cases. If it looks fine and smells fine- it usually is fine!

Science proves that bacteria does not work by the clock. Funnily enough, when it hits midnight on the expiration date of a product, those nasty microbes don’t begin hard at work to sabotage your produce.

Rotting apples, Photo Credit: Unsplash

Of course, we do not advise ignoring these dates entirely. They are obviously there for a reason. But, frequently this is not to ensure safety of a product, but to ensure quality.

For example, baby formula may lose its nutrients after a certain amount of time, or the yeast in a cake mix may have become inactive. Consuming these would not harm you, but the product will not be of good quality any longer.

It goes without saying that some food categories including meat, fish and dairy would require extra precaution and attention to expiry dates. In these cases, it is usually best to be on the safer side and dispose of any out-of-date products.

If the date strikes but the food is not yet bad, consider granting it a new lease of life and freezing it to make it last much longer. Of course, check how long you can freeze the produce for, as everything is different- but this could be a great way to save it from a fatal bin death.

I will let you in on a little secret- every food needs an expiration date by law. Some foods don’t really expire at all! Honey is a sweet example.

The conditions the honey make it impossible for bacteria to grow, meaning it can hang out at the back of your cupboard for ages.

Honey jar, Photo Credit: Unsplash

However, there is still an expiration date on the jar, which is often nice just to indicate how long you have had the product for, but not necessarily a sign you need to dispose of it.

It is also wise to be resourceful with your slightly past it produce. In some cases, foods looking a little worse for wear are often perfectly useable.

Take a droopy lettuce and combine it with a two-day old expiration date and most would grimace and toss it away. In most cases, that lettuce is not harmful- just perhaps not its crisp youthful self any longer.

You could still squash it in a sandwich or liven it up with a zesty dressing to use it up- if no mould is lingering of course.

Salad, Photo credit: Unsplash

So, how can you wise up on your senses to check yourself if your food has gone bad? Look for changes in colour, texture, consistency, odour, and taste.

If you are unsure whether a food is safe to eat beyond its date- stick to the ‘better to be safe than sorry’ mantra. But hopefully, that little black date on the packet won’t dictate what you bin so much anymore.