Food prices shopping lockdown

Image: Pixabay

Best Before dates: Why you should take them with a pinch of salt

It’s also important to note that there’s a big difference between a ‘best before’ date and an ‘expiry’ date.

Food prices shopping lockdown

Image: Pixabay

A recent survey conducted by Nielsen, an international retail research agency, has revealed that as many as 22% of South Africans actively change stores based on the discounts on offer. The survey also demonstrated that Saffers are aware of the current prices of most commonly bought items, and that up to 75% of us instantly notice when these prices are altered.

Needless to say, our struggling economy has left countless South Africans penny-pinching and desperate to seek out the best deals that local grocery stores are able to provide. But how far are wewilling to go to save a few bucks? Keeping an eye on catalogues is one thing, but would you be willing to eat food products past their best before dates to prevent them from going to waste?

What you need to know about Best Before dates

The truth is that doing so isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there are many products out there that are generally quite safe to eat or drink past their ‘best before’ dates.

“The best before date is about quality and not safety,” says Sandton-based registered dietitian, Shani Cohen.

“This is true provided that the food is unopened and has been handled and stored correctly. Having said that, it may not be at its best in terms of freshness, taste, colour and nutritional value,” she adds.

It’s also important to note that there’s a big difference between a ‘best before’ date and an ‘expiry’ date. There are only a few products that require an expiry date, and these products should never be eaten, cooked or frozen past this date as there are significant health risks involved in doing so.

Here’s a list of foods that you can take an educated gamble on:

Tinned Food

It’s all about how you store your tinned food.

“Unopened canned foods that have been stored in a cool, dry place should be good for two years or longer past their best before date, unless you see the tin bulging, leaking or rusting,” comments Shani.

Frozen Food

BB dates don’t mean much if the food has been stored in the freezer before that date, especially if the dish/item doesn’t contain any meat. However, if it does, you definitely don’t want to play around. Frozen meat that has been cooked shouldn’t be eaten after three months. Luckily, raw frozen meat can last a lot longer – usually up to a year.


While nobody likes to nibble on stale bread, it shouldn’t cause you any harm unless mould is visibly present. You can also further extend its lifespan and freshness by storing it in the fridge as opposed to in a bread bin.


Pasta doesn’t contain any moisture, so it’s pretty much immune to going bad. It should be perfectly fine to eat past its BB date just as long as it isn’t giving off an unpleasant odour.


It’s practically impossible to accidentally eat a spoiled egg considering the way it smells when you crack it open! The good news is that there’s another eggs-ellent approach to testing whether or not an egg is safe to consume. Simply drop it into a full bowl of water and see if it floats. Cook it if it doesn’t. Chuck it if it does. A floating egg is a good indication that there’s too much bacteria producing gases inside it.


Don’t pay too much attention to BB dates when it comes to fruit.

“I look more at the texture and smell rather than the date – if it’s too brown or slimy, get rid of it,” Shani says.

Pay Attention to How You Store Your Food

As with tinned goods, how long a food can last past its best before date will depend largely on how you store it. Many dairy products, such as yoghurt and milk for example, will still be good to eat up to a week past their best before dates if they have been kept in the fridge – even if they have been opened. The general rule is the colder, the better, and to store food away from direct sunlight.

The Risks

Unfortunately, there will always be risks involved when it comes to eating products past their BB dates – some risks more severe than others.

Shani cautions that it is possible for micro-organisms to grow on food even if the food doesn’t appear to be spoiled. If this is the case and you consume it, you may be lucky and get away with a mild stomach ache or a fleeting bout of nausea.

However, you may also develop symptoms of food poisoning such as diarrhoea and vomiting. It’s also important to note that some bacteria that can be present in spoiled foods has the potential to cause long-term damage to the kidneys and may even be life-threatening.

Foods to Avoid

There are certain foods that are more prone to causing food poisoning, so it’s always better to steer clear of them if they are past their recommended dates of consumption. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, the foods most likely to result in food poisoning include:

  • Undercooked or expired meat products
  • Unwashed or spoiled fruits and vegetables
  • Unpasteurised dairy products
  • Expired seafood

“Perishable foods like dairy products, deli meats and uncooked meats require closer adherence to their best before dates,” warns Shani. “In order to be safe, this type of food should be eaten or frozen on or before the best before date. However, if you’re willing to chance it, red meat or pork is likely to still be fit for consumption or freezing within 3 days of their BB date. Definitely don’t go past 1 or 2 days with poultry or seafood though!”

Remember, if in doubt, throw it out! Even if it means over-spending a bit on your grocery budget for the month. Better safe than salmonella, after all.  

The article above is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only.