The Truth About Pet Food Best Before Dates

| August 18, 2023

No one enjoys throwing away a perfectly good bag of pet food just because it passed its Best Before Date. With economic and financial concerns on the rise, every dollar and every food purchase or donated food item counts.  

Thanks to Toronto Humane Society’s Kyrsten Jade Janke, Research Coordinator, and Dr. Linda Jacobson, Senior Manager of Shelter Medicine Advancement, pet parents may be able to hang onto their pet food for much longer, and other Animal Welfare Organizations may be able to safely distribute more food through their pet food banks, simply by understanding the true meaning behind Best Before Dates. 

The Best Before Date is commonly, and incorrectly, thought of as a hard expiry date, which leads to the unnecessary disposal of many pet foods that are safe and usable products. Toronto Humane Society’s Best Before Date Pet Food Protocol, recently summarized on the Canadian Animal Shelter and Community Medicine Associate website, informs Animal Welfare Organizations that pet food can be safely consumed for a considerable amount of time beyond the Best Before Date. The protocol draws on human food safety data that is used by human food banks. 

Although the quality of food gradually diminishes after the Best Before Date, this process doesn’t happen overnight. “There is no immediate safety concern for food beyond the Best Before Date, so long as the packaging is intact and appropriate,” explains Dr. Jacobson. If the packaging has been opened or damaged, the Best Before Date is no longer a reliable indicator of freshness and safety. 

How Long Can Food Be Consumed Past the Best Before Date?

Wet Food: Wet food in cans can be safely consumed for up to two years past the Best Before Date, as long as the can remains undamaged and unopened. Dents near seams or bulging cans shouldn’t be kept past their Best Before Date. For wet food not in a can, we recommend not using it beyond its Best Before Date as there isn’t enough information available about its safety beyond that point. 

Dry Food: Boxed or bagged food and dry treats can be used up to six months past the Best Before Date, provided that the packaging is intact and has not been damaged in a way that exposes the food to the environment. Food in damaged packaging should either be discarded or immediately transferred to an airtight/waterproof container. 

What Does This Mean for Pet Parents and Pet Food Banks

Think twice before tossing out your expired food! Take a moment to check the packaging after seeing the Best Before Date because it might still be safe to consume. 

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Kyrsten Jade Janke for compiling this data. Not only does our protocol allow us to increase the amount of food being distributed through our Pet Food Bank, but it’s also been picked up by Humane Canada’s Food Bank Program. They’re also helping to spread the word by sharing it with other animal welfare organizations to help more animal welfare organizations fill more bellies with the nourishment they deserve.