When in doubt, throw it out? Date labelling on packaged foods

January 24, 2011 - Tags: Products Regulations

One of your labelling responsibilities as a producer of packaged foods with a shelf life of 90 days or less is to make sure there is a best before date on your labels and to understand what this term implies. Food waste is an issue and both producers and consumers need to work together to reduce fears of spoiled food that lead to premature disposal. Although you are required by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to label the product with a best before date, this term does not mean that the item must be used by the marked date.

What terminology is used around food labelling?

  • Durable life – This is the period during which the product remains fresh, tasty and nutritious from the date it was packaged for sale.
  • Best before – This date will give users an idea of the pre-packaged food's durable life.
  • Expiration date – This date is used only for certain items such as infant formula, nutritional supplements or meal replacements. The item should be discarded when the expiration or expiry date has passed.
  • Use by – In Canada this term is only used for pre-packaged yeast and can replace the best before date.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides the formula for the best before date on the label:

  • The term must be shown in English and French (best before / meilleur avant).
  • Year (if confusion could arise), month (one abbreviation for both languages), day

    Best before
    11 JA 30
    Meilleur avant

  • Instructions for storage are also included.

    keep refrigerated


Products with a shelf life of over 90 days do not require date labelling. Check out the exceptions to the 90 days or less rule in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising.

If the product's best before date has passed, the item may no longer be at its peak and may be more likely to spoil quickly, but remember that this date is an indicator of quality only, not safety. Visit Food Safety and Labels to learn more about safety and labelling requirements.

For more about requirements in the agri-food industry, see our section on Agriculture and Agri-Food Regulations. You can also get more information on Product Labelling in our Marketing, advertising and sales regulations section.

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