We’ve all been there, squinting at tiny writing on a milk carton wondering if it is still OK to add it to your morning cereal. Should you trust your nose, or stick to the best before date? The answer isn’t always clear.

Expiry dates might be the finite end of when you can safely consume food, but most of the foods we purchase are only stamped with a best before date, meaning it’s merely a suggested date to guarantee freshness and nutritional value. Here are some things you need to know about expiry dates so you can save money, and avoid tossing away food that’s still perfectly good to eat.

1. Only 5 types of products have actual expiry dates

In Canada, the only products to carry a true expiry date are: infant formula, nutritional supplements, meal replacements, formulated liquid diets and food formulated for low-energy diets sold by pharmacists. Not what most of us envision when it comes to filling up our grocery carts! All other food that stays fresh for 90 days or less are stamped with a best before date, which is just the industry’s way of guaranteeing it will taste as it should and be nutritionally accurate to its label.

milk-pour-over-cereal

2. The best before date only applies to unopened packages

While we usually rely on these dates the most when consuming already purchased foods at home, the best before date is no longer valid once a package is open, meaning the countdown to the last sip of milk isn’t as set in stone as it seems. Since food has a higher chance of being contaminated once the package is opened, the best before date is only an accurate gauge of freshness while you’re strolling the aisle of the grocery store.

hard-boiled-eggs

3. You can still consume food past the best before date

Just because it’s on or past the best before date doesn’t mean you have to throw it out. Milk and yogurt can be safely consumed for up to one week after their best before date. How long are eggs good for? You can test uncooked eggs to see if they are still good by placing them in a glass of water. If the egg floats, it has gone bad; if it sinks, it is good to eat. But make sure to use common sense when consuming any food past their stamped date. Always remember the saying: when in doubt, throw it out.

frozen-shrimp

4. There are still some foods to watch out for

Fresh fish, shellfish and most meat (even deli meats) have a smaller window of opportunity to consume after their best before date, so it’s best not to risk eating these items after that suggested time.

Food waste costs the economy billions of dollars a year, so why not be more mindful of what you’re tossing in the garbage can? It’ll keep extra money in your pocket while helping out the environment.

Want to learn more? Check out: 10 Foods You Can Eat After the Expiry Date.