Is canned food past its expiry or Best Before Date safe to eat? What about food in tetra paks?
These are questions I get quite often, for example one of my readers, Sandra, recently asked: “I have a carton of chicken broth that is expired. Is it safe to consume? What guidelines could I use to assess it?”
What does the Best Before Date on Canned Goods Mean?
Canned and tetra pak items are processed and packaged to prevent any microbial action from occurring inside the packaging. As long as the package is perfectly sealed and there are no punctures, the product inside will be safe from microbial action. As a result, food inside this type of packaging should be safe for decades. However, the quality, flavor, color, texture and nutrient content will deteriorate over time. Therefore, you should rotate your cans and follow the first in, first out rule to ensure you don’t end up in this predicament of having to determine if canned goods are too old to eat.
How to Decide if Canned & Tetra Pak Foods Are Safe to Eat?
- leaking or shows any stains that suggest leaking occurred at some point
- badly dented
- cracked, crimped or pinched
- missing the safety seal (if the product had such a thing)
- emitting any odors
These are all signs that the container may not be perfectly sealed anymore and once the seal is broken, no matter how tiny, microbial action that can lead to food spoilage can start up again. If you’re container shows any of these signs – Toss it, regardless of what the Best Before Date is.
The condition of the container is far more important to the safety of food in cans or tetra paks than the Best Before Date. Regardless of the date, if the container has been damaged or compromised in any way, the safety of the food inside has been compromised as well. For example a couple of weeks ago, I had juice boxes that were well before the Best Before Date, however, something was clearly wrong with one of the boxes. The juice box felt soft and squishy, not rigid like juice boxes usually do. It did not feel wet, nor did it have any stains or leaks. It just felt wrong. Even though it was still months before the Best Before Date, I decided not to use that particular juice box – I was in doubt, so I threw it out.
Want More Opinions?
- EatbyDate is a searchable database for how long food really lasts. The authors of this site are unknown but they claim to rely on various sources including the USDA.
- StillTasty.com is another searchable database for how long food really lasts. The authors of this site are unknown but they also claim to rely on various sources including the USDA. This site listed the greatest tolerance for foods I looked up.
- FoodBanksCanada provides a chart and guidelines for distributing food past the Best Before Date.
- FoodShare.org a food bank in Conneticut, US committed to a hunger free world also has a chart showing shelf life after BBD
What do you think? Clear as mud, right? If you were looking for a definitive answer, I’m sorry, but there isn’t one. There are too many factors at play to make this a simple yes or no answer. And that’s why, I will end with the same line that so many other articles on this topic end with – if in doubt, throw it out.
Want to learn more? Sign up and get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist, speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.