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'Best By' Dates on Pet Foods...Why It's Important

Mar 5, 2008
An article recently posted on the Consumerist website provides pet owners with a very good lesson. The article explains the story of a pet owner whose little Yorkie became ill from eating expired pet food - 3 years expired - all recently purchased - unknowingly - from PetCo.

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 foods and treats, you will find a 'Best by' date typically on the side or back of the bag or can. Most pet food manufacturers have told me that this date does NOT mean the food has expired, it means that the food is not as optimal as before the best by date.

Shelf life is one of the questions I ask manufacturers about and provide in Petsumer Report. It 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.

Optimal for your pet would be a pet food that is naturally preserved. However, the drawback of naturally preserved pet foods - the only drawback - is that they lose their nutritional value quickly. The challenge to pet owners is to find a food and treat that is very fresh.

Here's how you can make sure your pet is only eating fresh food - providing the best that product offers. Make a phone call to the pet food manufacturer and ask them what the shelf life is for the dry food or the canned/pouched food. As an example - ABC Pet Food Company tells you the shelf life of Premium ABC Dry food is 18 months and the shelf life of Premium ABC Canned/Pouch food is 2 years. With that information, check the 'Best by' date on the pet food. Let's say the 'Best by' date on the dry dog food you are considering says June 2008. Knowing that ABC Pet Food Company told you 18 months was the shelf life, you would know the food was made in January 2007 (Shelf life 18 months minus from June 2008 equals Jan. 2007). If 'today' is October 20, 2007 - you would know this pet food is now 10 months old.

With a canned food - the ABC canned cat food best by date is also June 2008. This would tell you that this can was made in June 2006 and thus it would be 14 months old in October 2007.

Using my above examples - I would NOT purchase a dry dog or cat food that was already 10 months old. Ideally - dry foods should be four months or less old and you should use them within a two month time frame. Again, with any naturally preserved dry product - the nutritional value starts to deteriorate almost immediately. Fresh is best. I would recommend purchasing and using the food within six months of manufacturing. Storing the food in an air tight container will help keep the food fresher after opening the bag - providing your pet with more quality nutrition. With canned products - it's a different ballgame. You definitely want to purchase and use the food before the best by date expires - but the quality of the nutrition is protected by the canning process. Any unused opened can must be covered and stored in the refrigerator and used within a couple of days.

Call the manufacturer of your pet's food and ask the shelf life of dry and canned foods. It is a small chore, but it's very important. You want what you pay for and your pet deserves the best nutrition. Get yourself into the habit of looking at the 'Best by' date BEFORE you purchase the food or treat. This little effort will not only provide your pet with better nutrition, but it could also save you from an experience of a sick pet.
About the Author
Before you purchase another bag or can of pet food, learn more of Susan's secrets to healthy pet foods. Also, sign up for the Truth About Pet Food free newsletter. shelf life, pet food, dog food, cat food
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