Pet Food News

Why it’s important – ‘Best By’ date on pet foods

Originally published September 30 2008 – updated and republished August 14, 2014.

A recent article posted on The Consumerist website brings up a very good point (and lesson) that pet owners should take note of…

The article comes from a pet owner whose Yorkie became ill, and after a couple of days in the vet’s office, the owner looked at her Eukanuba canned food and realized it had expired 3 years ago. When she checked the cupboard she discovered several other cans of dog food – all recently purchased at PetCo – had expiration dates from 2004. Here is the link to the story –

What happened to this pet owner (and pet) can easily happen to anyone. How many times have you purchased something and never looked at the expiration date?

With pet food – somewhere on the can or bag, usually on the side or back of the bag – is the ‘Best By’ date. With most of the manufacturers that I have spoken with, this date does NOT mean the food is officially expired – it just means that the food does not provide the nutrition as stated in the Guaranteed Analysis. The ‘best’ nutrition for your pet has expired – but again in most cases – per what the manufacturers tell me – the food is still ‘good’.

Shelf life varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. The shelf life of dry pet foods can vary from 4 months to 3 years – canned and/or pouched products vary from 1 year to 5 years. Treats usually have the same shelf life as the manufacturer’s dry food – but just to keep things confusing, that can vary too. The ‘Best By’ date provided on the food – does NOT tell you how old the product is – it does NOT tell you when the food was manufactured. It only tells you the date that particular manufacturer has determined the food no longer provides the pet with the proper nutrition. While some ingredients in the food might still provide adequate nutrition – other ingredients have faded over time.

All pet foods that are naturally preserved begin to lose their nutritional value almost immediately after they are made. This is the drawback to natural preservatives (but the ONLY drawback – you ONLY want naturally preserved pet foods and treats for your pet ). So the challenge is to find a pet food that is very fresh. Our friends at AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials – rule makers of the pet food industry) have made that a little difficult for pet owners – adding to the challenge. Pet food manufacturers are not required to put the date the pet food was manufactured on the bag or can – ONLY the date that particular manufacturer has determined the food no longer is ‘best’. As I stated above – it varies a great deal from product to product – manufacturer to manufacturer.

Call your pet food’s manufacturer and ask them the shelf life of dry foods and canned foods. I know it’s a chore, just one more thing you have to do and look out for – but it is very important. You want what you pay for – quality nutrition for your pet – and a fresh product will provide that (of course you have to pay attention to ingredients too – but that is a whole different subject!). Get yourself into the habit of looking at the ‘Best By’ date BEFORE you purchase the pet food and or treat. Your effort will not only provide your pet with better nutrition – getting yourself into the habit of looking at the expiration date could just save you from an experience similar to the pet owner mentioned in the beginning of this article – and a sick pet.


Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author Buyer Beware, Co-Author Dinner PAWsible
Association for Truth in Pet Food

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August 14, 2014

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5 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Why it’s important – ‘Best By’ date on pet foods”

  1. Michelle says:

    Within the past year or so, I have found many expired or expiring products on the shelves at a wide variety of retailers. I check absolutely everything when I purchase it, again when I bring it home, and yet again when I open the product. Alerting the store doesn’t always help, as I have witnessed the product being put right back out on the shelf. Believe it or not, I’ve started carrying a big black marker with me, taking the product up to the cashier, and circling the expiration date in front of the staff. Extreme? Maybe, but I would hate for someone’s pet to become sick when it was preventable.

  2. darlene says:

    it can also make a difference how food is transported & stored, especially in hot or humid parts of the country. my husband, a retired refrigerated/frozen transport driver, transported product from christmas trees to select restaurant steak all over the USA & into Canada. he transported dry dog food with temperature specification requirements as stringent as human grade foods and unloaded next to other foods shipped in non-temp controlled transports. temps inside those transports can skyrocket once they are loaded & sealed & the food inside may be in there for several days if shipped across country. we live in the hot south & there is a nearby feed store that carries some good brands at competitive prices, & moves a lot of food. you purchase & the warehouse guys deliver it to your vehicle. i ONLY buy there in winter because their warehouse is neither heated nor cooled. don’t mind it being stored @ 40 degrees in winter but spring thru fall if it’s transported uncooled & then stays in a 100 degree warehouse for a week or so before i purchase it……would you feed your kid cereal shipped & stored under those conditions?? think not.

    • Peter says:

      Darlene, you make an excellent point that consumers should be thinking about as they make choices. Every consumer should be generally aware of the shelf life of the food they choose. The information is not difficult to find. And if, for example, the brand you choose has a two-year shelf life: you should be wary of food that isn’t recently produced (that is, showing a 2-year from now “best buy” or BB date). If, for example, you had the opportunity to get your chosen brand with a 2-year shelf life at a discount… and the cans had a BB date of a year out… what has happened to the cans in that one year that has already passed? They could have been transported and stored in less than ideal conditions. They could have been bought by your retailer in good faith, but stored “improperly” by suppliers (there could have been several, along the way). As you say, those cans could have been “fried” or “boiled” or “frozen” during that time.

      I’ve bought canned food with more than a year left on its BB date… but when opened, the food had a watery texture and was clearly not what it was originally or what I expected. The cats gobbled it enthusiastically. But I never used the remaining cans and am certain it was altered from what it was when it was manufactured. In the end, I had NO idea what this food had gone through in the interim between manufacture and the year since. So I won’t buy anything that isn’t just made.

  3. Sandra says:

    This story is why I’m so thankful for Susan and the work you do for us! Through you, I’ve learned so much about being a better pet food consumer. I know proudly only buy Primal Pet Foods Complete Frozen Raw Diets for my boy. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Primal has signed a transparency agreement/pledge with the Association for Truth in Pet Food. Their customer service department is excellent- I got a live person after just 3 rings. And the person on the other end was extremely knowledgeable about their product and was impressed by my know-how on the subject, too (thank you again, Susan!). The gentleman on the other end of the line informed me that Primal’s Frozen Diets have a 1 year shelf life (erm, freezer life, I mean). So when I go to my local mom & pop store, I know which foods are freshest based on their “best buy date.” This story is also another reminder of why I’m so fortunate to have a small mom & pop pet store literally next door to my home. They’re small- which is wonderful because they personally order, receive, and put out every single product and I’ve never come across a product on their shelf that was anywhere near the “best buy” date. Local is best!

  4. Cheryl says:

    My cats have turned their noses up for the second time to the wet cat food in the AM. This time I thought to check the date on the wet cat food can….and there wasn’t a date stamped on the side or the bottom. How can I tell how old it is? It did have a smell to it and others before didn’t.

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