Everyone knows just because something is past its expiry date doesn’t mean it is unsafe. Add the economic incentive not to throw away unopened cat food, and the right decisions about expired food become less straightforward.
One way to get around this dilemma is to understand that it should be on a case-by-case basis. Rather than a blanket verdict of good or bad for every expired cat food, you should look out for certain qualities to determine if it is unsafe for your cat.
How to Tell When Cat Food is Off (5 Ways)
Think of the best before date as the reserve warning light in your car. When it comes on, it doesn’t mean your vehicle is completely out of gas. You still have enough to drive a couple of miles, but you still have to make a decision. The choice to refuel immediately depends on a couple of factors, such as how far you plan on going and how far away the nearest gas station is.
Similarly, you can determine if expired cat food is off by considering the following factors: level of contamination, nutritional quality, fat and spoilage, the real meaning of package date, and degrading of preservatives.
1. Level of Contamination
Before anything else, the first thing you want to look for to determine if cat food is off is contamination. This is because it applies not only to expired food but also unexpired ones. Usually, your cat food comes in packaging designed to prevent contamination, but its effectiveness depends on its quality.
Cat foods with vulnerable packaging are susceptible to moisture, insects, pests, mold, and other contaminants. Since an expired cat food means longer chances of exposure to these contaminants, you want to pay extra attention to the possibilities.
Look out for an off smell or any discoloration before feeding your cat. If everything looks fine and the packaging is intact, it might be good enough, but not until you have checked other qualities.
2. Nutritional Quality
One of the reasons manufacturers add expiry dates to their product’s packaging is because the quality of the content is not everlasting. While most people often think of physical quality in this regard, it also applies to nutritional quality.
Every cat food and other dietary product has a set of nutritional value with a shelf life. It is the amount of time during which the food can deliver the nutritional values advertised on the packaging. Anything after, and there is no guarantee because of the natural breakdown of nutrients.
Since there is no way to determine this before you feed your cat, avoid feeding your feline friend anything that has expired for three months. After three months, the food may have lost all its nutritional value, and your cat would suffer deficiencies in its diet, increasing the health risk.
3. Levels of Fat in Cat Food
All cat foods have fat content. This is because of the importance of fat to cats, almost level with protein. Unfortunately, this fat content means food can get rancid over time, which applies to
both wet and dry food. While smell might be a good way to test this, the initiated knows cat food typically has a strong odor.
Here is where familiarity with the brand comes in. If the expired cat food is a brand you are used to, you should be able to determine when it smells off. If it does, it means it is spoilt, and you should not feed it to your cat.
4. Understanding the Package Information
Expiry date and Best Before Date are phrases most people believe to mean the same thing. However, this is not true. The Best Before Date is the last date that the manufacturer can guarantee the nutritional quality to match the advertised value. On the other hand, the Expiry Date is the date when the food is no longer safe to eat.
The dates can vary for different brands and products, and dry cat foods are typically known for having longer expiry dates than wet food. Therefore, before you decide, you want to consider the actual labeling on the packaging.
Suppose the label says best before date, and it is uncontaminated; it might still be suitable for your cat even after a few weeks. If it is an expiry date, depending on the type of food and if it’s likely canned cat foods or dry in a packet, it should still be a good three months after.
5. Degrading of Preservatives
Manufacturers apply preservatives to keep the cat food fresh. Although they usually have no nutritional advantage, they keep the food’s nutrients fresh and active over time. But like nutritional contents themselves, they still degrade over time, allowing things like microbial and mold growth, spoilage to happen.
But not all cat foods have preservatives, and some are preservative-free. Look out for this in the expired food. If there is no preservative, and it meets other criteria, then you could feed it to your cat. If it has preservatives, it is best to use it before or close to the expiration date. Ideally, a few weeks after expiration is fine. Otherwise, best to avoid using it.
Reasons to Check Cat Food Expiration Dates
Now that you know what to look out for in expired cat food, why should you bother looking? Here are three reasons why you should check your cat food’s expiration dates.
– To Avoid Wasting Money
Most stores have a policy of putting products close to their Best Before or Best By date on sale. Many people buy them without learning why they are on sale, and they eventually throw them away after they go bad. You can avoid this scenario by checking your cat food’s expiration dates.
This is especially important if you buy them in bulk or are buying wet food. You want to be sure every single one will still be good by the time you circle to it.
– To Ensure your Cat Gets Optimal Nutritional Value
We have discussed the cat food nutrients and degradation earlier. Every cat food has nutritional value with a shelf life, represented by the best before date. It is the time when the manufacturer can guarantee the presence of the nutrients advertised on the label.
Past this date, it is a roll of the dice. It won’t necessarily mean the food has gone bad, but your cat might not get the bag’s complete promised nutrition. Beyond the futility of it, it could also lead to significant health issues.
– For Health Reasons
Ultimately, you should check your cat food expiration dates because of the health implications. Repeatedly feeding your cat expired food means feeding them a deficient diet. With nutrients like protein and fat vanished from their meals, your cat might develop different kinds of ailments and perhaps, die.
To prevent this, pay appropriate attention to expiry dates. If you have to buy your cat’s food on sale, be sure you will feed it to your cat within three months of the best before date. This is the optimal time when your cat is still likely to get significant nutritional value from the food.
Otherwise, do not hesitate to throw out expired food. It is safer and prevents your cat from getting sick.
What’s the Best Way to Store Cat Food?
Human or cat food, it is vital to preserve them in a way that keeps them fresh and safe to eat. The best way to store cat food depends on whether it is dry or wet food. Usually, manufacturers add preservation instructions to the packaging, which you can then follow to the letter. In cases when they don’t, use these tips to preserve your cat food:
Dry Cat Food
Most types of dry cat foods have a much longer shelf life than wet food. Thus, they require minimal preservation effort. Overall, it is advisable to store it in a dry and cool environment, one that does not exceed 100-degree Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). Ideally, this should be your food pantry or a laundry room. Other tips include:
- Preferably, store the food in the original bag by folding the top of the bag until it is secure and fasten with a clip.
- Keep the folded bag in a sealed container. You can use a metal or plastic container. Remember to label it to prevent mistakes.
- Do not leave cat food on the ground to prevent infestation and contamination from rodents and insects.
- Do not refrigerate dry cat food.
Wet Cat Food
Because of their shorter sh elf life, you need to pay extra care to wet cat food. When unopened, you should leave them in a cool and dry place like the preferred location for dry food. You can keep them in a pantry or laundry room, as long as they are unopened.
Once you open it:
- Store unused food in the refrigerator with a maximum temperature of 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Do not leave opened cans for more than seven days in the refrigerator.
- Pour unused food in a glass container with a lid to keep the fresh flavor.