Food Safety

How to Read Best Before Dates

How to Read Best Before Dates

By Keith Yee in Food Safety on September 30, 2014


There is a lot of confusion around best before dates, expiry dates, and food safety, and justifiably so – there are many different codes and symbols used. We hope that this post will answer your questions, and help avoid food waste too.

A major take-home message is this: If you have canned or other non-perishable foods in your home, you do not need to discard them just because they are past their “best before” date; you can still safely eat them. Here is why.

Best Before Dates:

Best before dates are only required on products with a shelf life of less than 90 days, although they are frequently found on products with long shelf lives (like canned goods).  Best Before dates are marked with the words “Best Before” or “B.B./M.A.”

Non-perishable food that is past its best before date is still safe to eat (as long as the packaging is in tact and undamaged), although texture or flavour may change over time.  To ensure that we are giving out good-tasting and good quality food, the Richmond Food Bank’s policy is to dispose of any items that are two years (or more) past their best before dates. Any items that are open or damaged (rusty, severely dented, or bloated cans, for example) are discarded immediately for food safety reasons.

Expiry Dates:

Expiry dates are found on products where the nutritional ingredients need to be stable (like baby formula and nutritional supplements).  These foods are clearly marked with “EXP” or “Expiry.”

While they are likely safe to eat, the manufacturers cannot guarantee that the nutritional composition remains stable.  It is the Richmond Food Bank’s policy to dispose of items immediately once they are past their Expiry Date. We do not distribute Expired Food.

Manufacturer’s Codes:

These are a set of numbers and letters, and are used by shipping companies and manufacturers to track their products.  They are not indicative of the best before dates or expiry dates.

We hope that this is helpful.   Please Contact Us if you have any questions.


About the author

Keith Yee

Keith Yee is the Richmond Food Bank's General Manager.