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.
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 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.
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 (American Association of 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.
So here’s what you can do to assure your pet is eating ONLY fresh food – providing the best that product offers…
Call the manufacturer and ask them what the shelf life is for their dry foods and/or canned foods. Let’s say ABC Pet Food Company tells you that the shelf life of their Premium ABC dry foods is 18 months and their Premium ABC canned/pouched foods is 2 years. With that information – you then look at the ‘Best By’ date on the product. As an example, if the best by date on the dry dog food you are considering says June 2008 – knowing that ABC told you 18 months for dry food, you would know that the food was made in January of 2007. Using today’s date – October 20, 2007 – this would tell you this particular bag of ABC dry dog food is 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.
Most of the time, when pet owners look at the ‘best by’ date and they see June 2008 – they think ‘this is good – this food still has 8 months until it expires’. I was guilty of this until I learned the differences too. But the bigger picture needs to be explained.
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 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.