Canned fish sold in Canadian stores years past expiry date

By: Jennifer Pretty Mar 05, 2013
canned fish sold after best before

How long does food really last?

Here in Canada the government doesn’t have any rules against selling expired canned goods. Manufacturers can voluntarily place dates on cans, but they aren’t required to. These dates are primarily meant for stock control use, rather than for the customer to read. For that reason, dates are often encoded and can’t be understood by the average shopper.

What does “best before” even mean? It only means that the food should taste better before that specific date, after it may not be as good. It’s a taste issue, not a safety issue. As Peter Clark of Clover Leaf  says: “best before does not imply bad after”. To try and clear up the confusion, the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education have produced a chart that shows how long foods can be kept in the fridge after their sell-by date. So, apparently it’s fine to eat food past its best, the question is just how far past its best you can go.

It’s a question that Canadian grocers are dealing with right now. An investigation of 17 major grocery stores in and around Vancouver found that a third of them stocked out-of-date fish and seafood cans, with dates from 2010 to 2012. Manufacturers insist it’s safe to eat canned food 3 years after packing, unless the can is damaged.

The store that came off worst in the survey was Safeway, with three locations stocking canned fish as old as a toddler! One store in Coquitlam, B.C. had shrimp dated August 2010. The Consumers’ Association of Canada also did their own survey, and found out-of-date canned fish in all of the 7 stores they checked. One store even had fish that was 5 years out of date! As a result of the surveys, Safeway has stated they are “very concerned” and are conducting their own internal audit.

In Alberta, Margaret Radomski, 78, bought a can of lobster pâté in Wal-Mart, she suffered side-effects 4 hours after eating it, including wobbly legs and a “crawling sensation” over her face. Checking the can, she found it had expired in July 2011 – 18 months before she bought it. She says she feels “disappointed” that the product was on the shelves and describes selling outdated products as “negligence”. Wal-Mart offered her $50 compensation in return for her silence, but she chose to speak out.

Is outdated canned fish really a health risk? Is anything going to change as a result of these investigations? Personally, when it comes to food safety I think when in doubt, throw it out!


Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!


Jennifer Pretty began her career as the director of artist development for a well-known Canadian music label. Branching out on her own, she then started her own PR business “Pretty Media Management” planning and hosting various charity, entertainment and fashion events. As a dance and fitness class enthusiast Jennifer is a firm believer in the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. She also loves to cook, travel, spend time with family and friends and most importantly living life to the fullest!