BEST BEFORE DATES: Everything You Need to Know

BEST BEFORE DATES: Everything You Need to Know

The first thing that you need to know is that best before dates are about quality, not safety. It quite literally means that the food was best, or in its finest form, before said date. After that date means that it’s beginning its slow decline in quality.

In Canada, only five types of food have true expiry dates: baby formula, meal replacements or supplement bars, meal supplement drinks, formulated liquid diets and foods used in low-energy diets (the last two both require a prescription). These foods should not be eaten past their expiry date. 

This blog post talks about everything else. All of the forgotten canned beans and soups in the back of your cupboard or frozen and packaged pizzas stuck to the back of your freezer. 

How long after the best before date can I eat… 

When packaged correctly and stored or frozen at the correct temperature, the following best before date timelines are generally true:

  • Canned goods: Last up to one year past the best before date
  • Dairy (and eggs): Lasts up to two weeks past the best before date
  • Poultry pieces: Last up to six months in the freezer
  • Meats (incl. beef, lamb, pork and whole poultry): Last up to one year in the freezer
  • Dry cereals: Last up to one year past the best before date
  • Packaged snacks (incl. popcorn, granola bars and bagged snacks): Last up to one year past the best before date
  • Prepared and frozen meals: Last up to one year past the best before date in the freezer
  • Unopened, shelf-stable condiments: Last up to one year past the best before date
  • Unopened drinks (incl. juice or coconut water): Last up to one year past the best before date

Your opened ketchup in the fridge is only safe to eat for up to about six months after the best before date—not six years. Your yellow mustard, one year. Mayonnaise, three months. Only your hot sauce will last an extra three to five years when stored in the fridge (Sriracha only two years).  

3 Simple best before date checks for packaging and storage

everything you need to know about best before dates

1. What temperature was the food stored at? 

Regardless of the best before date, perishable food items must be stored at the correct temperature. Two to four hours in a bad temperature zone (4-60 degrees celsius) is enough to spoil the food. 

For example, if you accidentally left yogurt, milk or meat out of the fridge overnight, it sat in the “danger temperature zone” for too long and is not safe to eat.  

2. How does the packaging look, feel and smell?

Check canned goods and food packaging for bulging, tears, rips, water damage or signs of insects. Look for mould, foul smells or discolouration. All of these may be signs that the food has gone bad and is not safe to eat, regardless of what the best before date says. 

One exception to the rule, however, comes to mind with hard cheeses and mould. If there’s a little mould on one corner but the packaging wasn’t damaged and it long before the best before date, it’s probably safe to cut it off and eat the rest. This does not apply to soft cheeses, however.  

Use your senses and instinct. 

3. Was the food frozen properly and how is the packaging? 

Everything you need to know about best before dates

When meats, fruits and vegetables are safely stored and frozen at the proper temperature (at or below -18 degrees celsius), they can usually be consumed between six months to one year later regardless of the best before date and depending on the food. (See the poultry and meats sections in the list above.) 

If the frozen items have freezer burn or icicles formed on them—or if the packaging is ripped—they may not be safe to eat.  

Use your senses and instinct, along with this as a general guideline, to help you lessen your food waste impact and make the most of your groceries. 

Why is understanding the best before date important?

Too much food goes to waste because of a lack of awareness and education. Consumers throw out or avoid purchasing good food because it was too close to the best before date. Grocers dump milk and dairy products (that we now know are good for another two weeks!) for this very same reason.

But if we all made the commitment to understanding best before dates, think of the food that we could divert from landfills.

Second Harvest has free e-learning modules for you to try, including training on food date labels, like best before and expiry dates. Visit training.secondharvest.ca to create your free account and get started!

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

When it comes to waste at home, the kitchen is an unfortunate hot spot. 

It makes sense: the kitchen is the heart of so many homes. It’s where we make meals for ourselves and for our loved ones. It’s where we get nourishment and recharge throughout the day. 

But, for every salad that we make, there are lettuce and tomato cores, carrot and radish tops and roots, avocado skins and pits, and lemon rinds as food waste, depending on the meal. For every barbeque, there are watermelon and corn cobs and meatless bones at least. All of that and more end up in the trash or compost—and add to our country’s growing food waste

Let’s think about creative kitchen hacks to reduce the food waste that we’ve become so accustomed to in our homes. Let’s challenge ourselves to reduce our food waste in our home kitchens—and see how this seemingly small step can make a big impact on a daily basis.

Here are a few super easy, yet ingenious kitchen hacks to reduce your home’s food waste and food costs.

The money saved in a zero-waste kitchen can help people across Canada! We invite you to join us to donate the difference back to Second Harvest to help keep healthy food where it belongs: on plates, not in landfills.

10 Clever Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

1. Re-use your lemon rinds to clean

Past generations could have told us that lemon (and white vinegar) works wonders as a natural cleaning product. They are naturally antibacterial and act as bleach to clean, shine, and remove stains in bathrooms and kitchens. Plus they smell delicious. Add a little coarse salt to your lemon rinds and it’ll clean and disinfect your wooden cutting board. 

2. Overturn spent grapefruits in the garden

Finished eating your grapefruit? Don’t throw it out, put it cut-side-down in the garden to attract slugs and other pests away from eating your garden’s leafy greens. 

3. Plants love spent coffee grounds 

Acid-loving plants love spent coffee grounds as compost! Save your grounds and sprinkle them on the soil of your tomatoes, blueberries, roses, azaleas, carrots, radishes, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and more. Give them water and watch those plants flourish. 

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

4. Crushed eggshells in your garden

Crushed eggshells are great in gardens. Finely ground eggshells act as a natural calcium powder that is similar in makeup to fertilizers. Or, leave them coarse and scatter them around your slug-loving plants as the first line of defence against them. 

5. Make a stock with your kitchen scraps

Stock is an important ingredient in so many delicious recipes. It can also be made at home very easily with plain old kitchen scraps. Collect your onion skins, vegetable tops, skins, and roots, wilted greens, floppy vegetables (like carrots and celery), and bones, in a container in the freezer or fridge until you’re ready to make a delicious stock. Just add water, a few bay leaves, salt and pepper, and boil to a simmer for the day. 

6. Freeze your fruits and vegetables

If you have fruits and vegetables that are about to turn in your fridge, seal them in a freezer bag for later use. Make sure to label the bag using a permanent marker so that you know what it is and how long it’s been in your freezer. Check out our best before-dates article for more information. 

Frozen greens, berries, and bananas make awesome breakfast smoothies. Or, heat your frozen berries up into a quick compote to drizzle over yogurt or French toast. The latter, by the way, is a classic great use of stale bread and stretching one egg for more people.

Another kitchen hack: Once you’re done with the freezer bag, if it’s in good shape, give it a wash, and reuse it. 

7. Use your wilted greens

Wilted greens like kale and spinach or herbs are perfect in omelettes, scrambled eggs, stirfries, smoothies, and other dishes that would naturally wilt them anyways. They still have so much nutritional value and flavour that it would be a shame to bin them just because they droop. 

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

8. Store leftovers to see them  

If your fridge is packed with coloured containers, it’s like playing a mystery game to figure out what’s inside of them. Sometimes, that leftover dish that you planned to eat got pushed too far back to eat in time safely. 

Put your leftovers in clear glass jars or containers and organize them in a way that encourages you to use them. 

9. Beef up your leftovers

Just because you only have half a sandwich left over, doesn’t mean that you can’t have a full hearty meal. Make a side salad or soup, slice a pickle, toss a few chips on your plate, or vegetables and dip to beef up your leftovers. Have some fresh fruit and a piece of chocolate for dessert. If it’s a stirfry for one that needs to feed more, fry in some fresh vegetables, leftover meat, and add fresh veggies and herbs to garnish. 

Leftovers are only boring if you let them be. 

10. Transform your food scraps with creativity

Consider the avocado pit. 

You can clean it and grow it into a whole new plant that looks great—and it may even produce more avocados for you one day. Or, you can dry the pits and rehydrate them in an all-natural dye bath to transform your not-so-white bedding into a pretty pink colour. 

So many fruits, vegetables, and other plants can be repurposed in many clever ways. 

You can regrow lettuce and green onions in water to sprout more food (your family can learn how at our upcoming symposium!). One clove of garlic will re-grow into a whole bulb if given enough time and garden space. You can dye clothing naturally with onion skins, beets, turmeric, coffee, tea, you name it. 

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

Get inspired!

All it takes is a bit of effort to set these food scraps aside—and creativity to use them when you have the time and energy—to hack your food waste systems in your home.

Here are more ideas to get inspired!

We’d love to hear about your food waste hacks. Post them on social and tag @SecondHarvestCA so we can share and create a food waste revolution, one kitchen at a time!

WASTE REDUCTION WEEK: Curb Your Household Food Waste

WASTE REDUCTION WEEK: Curb Your Household Food Waste

For the past two decades, the third week of October marks Canada’s nationwide Waste Reduction Week. Organizations and individuals alike come together to celebrate initiatives that curb waste and educate and inspire others on how to do the same. This year focuses on the circular economy, ways to reduce key wastes including textiles, electronics, plastics, and food waste, as well as how to reuse, share, and repair what you have. 

Our future and planet depend on us to reduce (and reuse and recycle (or compost)!) our waste every day of the year. Food waste, in particular, is an enormous emitter of greenhouse gases. A 2019 report from Environment and Climate Change Canada found that Canadians waste 79 kilograms (or 174 pounds) of household food every year. Our nation’s 2.2 million tonnes of avoidable household food waste is equivalent to 9.8 million tonnes of CO2 or 2.1 million cars on the road.

The good news is that 60% of the food that goes to waste is 100% avoidable! 

Some foods like coffee grinds, bones, shells, and peels aren’t edible and so they’re considered “unavoidable” food waste. Tossing foods like wilted lettuce, ugly carrots or imperfect fruit, or good milk a few days past its best before date are “avoidable” food wastes. In Canada, 1 million cups of milk go down the drain every single day, as well as 470,000 heads of lettuce, 1.2 million tomatoes, and 750,000 loaves of bread to name a few top offenders. 

Love Food Hate Waste image for what is wasted in Canadian households with 2.2 million tonnes of edible food wasted every year—30% of which are vegetables.

Caption: Love Food Hate Waste image for what is wasted in Canadian households with 2.2 million tonnes of edible food wasted every year—30% of which are vegetables.

In honour of Canada’s Waste Reduction Week, let us all take the pledge to reduce our food waste at home every day of the year. It’s simple and has the power to make a huge impact on our beautiful planet. 

Pledge to Reduce Your Household Food Waste

The food waste pledge is easy as pie in principle and just requires a little practice. You pledge to do the following at home: 

  1. Make meal plans and write a grocery list
  2. Store fruits and vegetables properly to last longer
  3. Get creative with leftovers and pantry items
  4. Think critically about best before dates 

That’s it. Let’s break down each step so that there’s no confusion during your journey to reducing food waste at home—and lessening your impact on the planet.

WASTE REDUCTION WEEK: Curb Your Household Food Waste

4 Simple Ways to Stop Food Waste at Home

1. The Importance of Meal Planning to Reduce Food Waste

Many of us bulk shop for the week (or longer) and impulse buy based on what we think we need. The result is often that we overshop and cannot physically eat the overabundance of food before it starts to spoil. 

Meal planning forces you to take stock of what you already have—and therefore don’t need more of (yet). 

Digging through the fridge and rummaging through the cupboards are essential first steps to curbing our food waste at home. The next step is to use up what you have first. Write down what you’re missing and then do smaller grocery shops to supplement what you need. 

Tip: Use what you have and buy only what you need.

Learn more about how to do a kitchen inventory and meal plan in 7 SIMPLE STEPS to Sustainable Grocery Shopping and Eating Habits.

WASTE REDUCTION WEEK: Curb Your Household Food Waste

2. Store Foods Properly to Last Longer at Home

How you store your fruits, vegetables, bread, canned goods, and condiments greatly impacts their shelf-life—and your household food waste. 

7 Did-you-knows to start following at home: 

  1. Some fruits like apples, bananas, tomatoes, and avocados give off ethylene which speeds up the ripening and spoilage of other produce. Store them in sealed bags. 
  2. Store anything that will wilt (root vegetables, greens, peppers, cucumbers and so on) in high humidity drawers. Tip: some fridges will have an image of vegetables on this drawer.
  3. Keep fruits and citruses in low humidity drawers to avoid rot or mould. Tip: some fridges will have an image of fruits on the low-humidity drawer. 
  4. Store potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, and onions in cool, dry, dark cupboards, not the fridge. Tip: keep potatoes and onions apart from each other. 
  5. Freeze any fruits, vegetables, or meats to extend their shelf life if you can’t eat them before they spoil.
  6. Keep bread in the cupboard or extend its life in the freezer. Throw stale bread into a blender, fry it up, and use it as bread crumbs on soups, salads, and pasta.
  7. Store green onions and cut onions in plastic in the fridge to avoid spoiling other foods.

Check out Love Food Hate Waste’s Keep It Fresh page for more tips on how to properly store various foods in your kitchen—and avoid unnecessary food waste at home. 

3. Get Creative With Leftovers and Your Pantry

Part of your pledge to reduce food waste in your home is to save and eat your leftover meals and foods. For example, if you make a hearty soup and only eat half of it, freeze the rest for the next rainy day or have it for lunch along with a side salad. Likewise, leftover food items like half of an onion, wilted vegetables, and leftover chicken make great stock for soups and dishes in the future. 

Here are 10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste. Get creative with leftovers in your fridge and the items in your pantry with the Art of the Pantry: Finding New Inspiration in Your Cupboards

Tip: Store leftovers in see-through Tupperware so that you know what you have. Out of sight and out of mind often equals food waste.

4. Think Critically About Expiration and Best Before Dates

In Canada, only five types of food have true expiry dates: baby formula, meal replacements and supplement bars, meal supplement drinks, formulated liquid diets, and foods for low-energy diets. The latter two require a prescription. Expiry dates are the date past which they must not be consumed.

All other foods—dairy, meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, canned goods, dried goods, condiments, you name it—have best before dates. This indicates quality and peak freshness

Milk is one of the most commonly wasted foods in Canada. It has a best before date that indicates freshness and excellence up until that date, but it’s still safe and good to consume up to two weeks later so long as it was stored correctly and smells fine. Trust your nose and your instincts. 

Tip: Think critically about best before dates before you throw good food out, especially pantry items. Look up specific foods and their post-best before dates and use your senses to guide you. 

Learn more with BEST BEFORE DATES: Everything You Need to Know.

Divert Your Household Food Waste From the Landfill

Divert Your Household Food Waste From the Landfill

Organic material in the landfill decomposes to release methane gas. This is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more harmful to our planet than CO2. Between this and rising food insecurity, it’s so important to curb our food waste at home as well as to divert food from ending up in landfills at other stages of the food chain, which is what Second Harvest aims to do across the country.

It’s time to do our part. Take the pledge to reduce food waste at home. 

Learn more about food waste in Canada and what you can do about it with Second Harvest’s free e-learnings

For the Love of Giving

For the Love of Giving

“Love is energy,” writes Marianne Williamson in her bestselling book, A Return to Love. Love is a profound feeling that all of us are born with. Our journey in life is to get back to love and cultivate more of it in our hearts. So much so that we have more to spare and share. In a world full of love, Williamson writes, “there would be no hunger because we would feed each other. There would be no environmental breakdown because we would love ourselves, our children, and our planet too much to destroy it…” 

In other words, when we love ourselves, we open our hearts up to loving and giving to others. Give love and get it in return. Give thanks, kindness, compassion, and care, and get them in return. “What we give to others, we give to ourselves,” writes Williamson. “What we withhold from others, we withhold from ourselves.”

The simple act of giving is not only helpful to others in our communities, but it also makes us feel good. Gandhi was once quoted saying, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”    

Why People Love Helping Others

For the love of giving | Second Harvest

There are no shortages of need or ways to help others. Random acts of kindness and compassion, such as giving food to another who is in need or funds to those who are helping, have the power to change lives. Plus, that feel-good experience will last in your heart like a fond memory for much longer than the moment. 

In fact, brain science shows that when we help or give to others, we experience something called a “Helper’s High.” Our brains release endorphins that cause a state of euphoria. Helping others also gives us a sense of purpose, which also has its own set of positive mental, emotional, and physical “perks” on us. Helping others by volunteering, donating, fundraising, and so on, has also been found to boost happiness, self-esteem, life satisfaction, and longevity, while lowering depression, stress, and blood pressure. 

Despite this, people help others for the love of giving, rather than receiving. 

The Life-Changing Power of Giving 

How can we bring more love, kindness, gratitude, and compassion into our lives? It’s actually quite simple, but it may require you to change your mind. Do anything often enough and it becomes a habit. The same goes for changing your mind. New thought patterns and habits quite literally reshape your brain and form new synapses. 

That’s how you begin to let love and positivity flood in. Focus on kindness, compassion, love, gratitude, and positivity rather than their opposites. When you have love in your heart and positivity on your mind, you can’t help but share it with others! 

That sharing of love to others most often comes in the form of giving. This kind of giving comes from the heart with no strings attached. It’s solely for the love of giving and it changes more lives than just yours. 

What You Give to Others, You Get in Return

Let’s look at gratitude, as an example of letting in positivity. Gratitude is a long-lasting, deep feeling with the ability to weather and withstand most emotional storms. Being grateful has been shown to boost happiness and lower stress and depression. In fact, the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (as referenced in Janice Kaplan’s book, The Gratitude Diaries), found that ~18.5% of our happiness could be predicted by how much gratitude we feel. 

Kaplan says to write down one or more things (people, places, events, feelings, experiences, items, etc.) that you’re grateful for every day. By focusing on what you’re grateful for—the good things in life and that which you love—you begin to notice them more. You shift your perspective from the negative to the positive. You begin to change your mind!

Start by saying “thank you” when someone does something for you. You’ll quickly notice that they say thank you for something that you do in return. Give thanks and receive it. Soon, it will become the best new habit in your life. 

For the love of giving | Second Harvest

Helping Your Community For the Love of Giving

It is important to give back to your community and those who need our help whenever (and however) possible. Find a cause that speaks to your heart and that you believe in. Show your love, kindness, compassion, and gratitude for your community and those dedicated to the cause by helping them out. Volunteer or donate your time, energy, and resources by surrounding yourself with like-minded people who want to better the world in some way.  

Helping others for the love of giving will manifest itself in miraculous ways in your life. After all, love is energy that can be directed wherever we focus it. 

About Second Harvest

Second Harvest rescues fresh, unsold food to protect the environment from the harmful effects of food waste and provide immediate hunger relief to communities in need across Canada. 

Learn more about how you can help.

Make 2022 the Year We Eliminate Food Waste

Make 2022 the Year We Eliminate Food Waste

January is a time for setting intentions, resolutions, and goals for the year. Make 2022 the year to eliminate food waste. (Or, at least, significantly reduce and divert it.) There’s no time like the present! Our climate is in a crisis, hunger is on the rise, pollution and waste are out of control, and the only way forward is through radical changes and pledges by all to be sustainable from this moment onward. 

Just how BIG is Food Loss and Waste?

Food loss and waste take place at every stage of the food chain in developed countries. Food loss happens long before the food gets to your home or even the grocery stores. Canada, for instance, grows millions of tomatoes every year. Hundreds of thousands of them are expected to not make it to the market. This is the first break in our unsustainable food systems. Many of them won’t leave the farm or greenhouse because of many reasons, including labour shortages to harvest and consumer expectations for perfection. 

The number of resources, including our precious finite freshwater, that went into over-producing our food is astounding. Post-harvest and during processing, manufacturing, packaging, storage, and distribution, more food loss takes place. “Ugly foods” and mislabeled products often go to landfills, for example. At the retail and consumer levels, is where food waste happens. 

The Environmental Impact of Food Waste:

The UN’s recent Climate Change report states that significant action must be taken to avoid global warming above 1.5˚C by 2030. Food loss and waste must be among some of the most urgent challenges to solve. For example, as deforestation occurs to plant new crops for our growing population, we must stop and ask ourselves why? 

Make 2022 the Year to Eliminate Food Waste

We Have Enough Food to End World Hunger

The good news is that we have enough food and farms to feed everyone and then some! We don’t need more room to grow crops for ourselves or for feed. Instead, we need to use what we have more efficiently and sustainably. We need to start valuing the preciousness of our resources (food and freshwater included). 

It is up to all of us—from consumers, volunteers, and workers to governments, industries, businesses, producers, manufacturers, and distributors alike—to overhaul our broken food systems and curb our wasteful unsustainable habits. 

This says nothing of rising hunger worldwide and at home in Canada. Globally, humans produce more than enough food to feed the world’s growing population. Yet, 811 million people go hungry. COVID-19, the climate crisis, and conflict have exacerbated the number of undernourished people, increasing by 161 million people from 2019 to 2020. 

In Canada, one in seven folks struggles to put food on the table. Yet, in Canada too, 32% of food that is lost or wasted food could be rescued to feed those in need. 

Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Impactful

Make 2022 the Year to Eliminate Food Waste

Now for the good part: 

  • In 2021, Second Harvest rescued 41 million pounds of food and redistributed it to over 3,000 non-profits across Canada, supporting 6,400 programs helping people in need
  • 4.2 million Canadians were fed from rescued food
  • Average of 110,000 meals per day that was provided for by rescued food
  • Averted 162 million pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere
  • That’s the equivalent of taking 22,512 cars off of the road for one year 

Second Harvest had help in achieving these outstanding numbers in Canada, of course. Thousands of generous donors, including farmers, retailers, manufacturers, distributors, and organizations across many different industries, along with an army of volunteers and workers all worked together on the same goals: No hunger. No waste. 

2022 is the Year to Eliminate Food Waste

Make 2022 the Year to Eliminate Food Waste

You can make a 2022 resolution to rethink how you value food. Rather than overshopping, buy just what you need. Choose the “ugly carrots” in your soup. Eat your leftovers and learn about best-before dates. Or, freeze what you can’t eat right away. Inspire others to do the same. Talk to your local grocers, farmers, government officials, and manufacturers to see what they’re doing—or how you can help. Donate your time and resources or volunteer at a community organization that rescues food and feeds your neighbours in need. 

Together, let’s rethink our habits and make new, better ones (for us, our planet, and our neighbours).  

The only difference between illness and wellness is the “I” and “We.” Together, we can fix the problem and become a part of the solution. Let’s make this year count and make it our collective New Year’s Resolution to eliminate food waste.

Take your 2022 resolution to a whole new level—check out volunteer opportunities with Second Harvest.