Skip to main content

Look, smell, taste: Canada's recipe for reducing food waste

Reconsidering 'best before' dates can lead to a substantial reduction in food waste and financial savings for Canadian households
best before date bread
As consumers, we waste food for various reasons, including poor planning and weak inventory management at home.

We all know food waste is an environmental issue, but it's also a significant financial burden. According to Second Harvest, nearly 60% of food produced for Canadians, amounting to 35.5 million tonnes, is lost and wasted annually. Of this, 32% or 11.2 million tonnes is still edible and could be redirected to support people in our communities. The total financial value of this potentially rescuable food is an astonishing $49.46 billion, and we all pay for this waste.

As consumers, we waste food for various reasons, including poor planning and weak inventory management at home. However, one major issue compelling many to waste food unnecessarily is the "best before" dates. These dates are the second greatest reason consumers throw food away in their households. It is estimated that a Canadian household could avoidably waste $100 to $400 worth of food each year because of the overwhelming belief that "best before" means "bad after."

The Look-Smell-Taste initiative, initiated this week by the social impact company behind the food rescuing app Too Good To Go, aims to address this issue. Starting this week, some selected items across the country will feature a sticker inviting consumers to look, smell, or taste a product if its "best before" date has passed before throwing it out. While the "if in doubt, throw it out" rule remains a benchmark, this new campaign could help save many unopened food packages that would otherwise end up in the compost, costing money.

READ: Canadians more inclined to eat near-expired or expired foods as prices remain high 

This initiative is welcome news for Canadians. It’s about awareness and education, but mostly about trusting food safety practices in Canada. According to the Global Food Security Index, Canada is the top-ranking country in the world for quality and safety, followed by Denmark and the United States. Despite occasional recalls and setbacks, Canada’s food is among the safest in the world.

Another significant factor is packaging. Many years ago, packaging technologies were not as advanced as they are today. Recent research has greatly enhanced food safety. New packaging technologies, including antimicrobial packaging and modified atmosphere packaging, have significantly improved food safety by providing better protection and monitoring of food products. Smart packaging technologies, such as time-temperature indicators and freshness sensors, allow real-time monitoring of food conditions, ensuring that consumers receive products that are safe and of high quality. These advancements reduce the risk of contamination, spoilage, and foodborne illnesses, thereby improving overall food safety throughout the entire supply chain.

Most consumers cannot appreciate all the work done behind the scenes across the supply chain, but that work ensures food is as safe as it can be at retail. However, the most important risk manager of the entire food supply chain is the consumer. In the end, it is up to us to decide how we mitigate risks and what we consider an acceptable risk threshold. Our risk society has made risk perception a very personal issue, and food safety is no exception. 

According to a survey by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University last year, about 27% of Canadians would eliminate "best before" dates altogether to reduce food waste. This small portion of our population indicates that Canada's food safety culture and dependence on key indicators like dates on packages are strong.

READ: Montreal’s Loop is on a mission to end food waste in Canada 

Additionally, some consumers seek out these dates to get deals on expiring foods at grocery stores and through apps. It's hard to argue against this practice.

In the meantime, we need ongoing education and awareness. The Too Good To Go's 'Look-Smell-Taste' initiative, offers a balanced approach to addressing our food waste problem in Canada, at least for now.

More Blog Posts in This Series

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds