Before you throw out that can of beans that has been collecting dust in the pantry, Winnipeg’s largest food bank says it’s likely still safe to donate.

Workers at Winnipeg Harvest say they accept donations of non-perishable food items that have passed their best-before dates – sometimes even up to a year past – because their contents are still safe to consume.

“Really, it can be up to 12 to 24 months, and sometimes even longer,” Winnipeg Harvest executive director Keren Taylor-Hughes told CTV Winnipeg. “We do follow all those items so we do not have any food that we think is not suitable for ourselves to eat and that’s what we use and it actually goes a long way here.”

Taylor-Hughes said the food bank follows Health Canada’s guidelines on for best-before dates.

“You can buy and eat foods after the best-before date has passed,” the agency says on its website. “However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed. Some of its nutritional value may be lost. For example, vitamin C content in juice.”

Health Canada said this guidance only applies to unopened food items because once a product has been opened its shelf life may change.

Claudia Narvaez, a food scientist at the University of Manitoba, agrees with Health Canada that food is still safe to eat once the best-before date has come and gone. She said “shelf stable” foods, such as canned goods or pasta, may be safe to eat indefinitely if they’ve been stored properly.

“If it’s still sealed, nobody opened it, you can still eat it after that best-before date,” Narvaez explained. “They may change flavour, odour, colour, maybe the taste is going to be a little off, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to hurt you.”

Taylor-Hughes said their volunteers at Winnipeg Harvest carefully inspect every food item they receive for any damage or leaks to ensure they’re still edible.

“We get our volunteers to actually check the expiration date first,” she said. “They know exactly how long they’re still good.”

Winnipeg Harvest serves approximately 64,000 people every month and enlists the help of 200 volunteers. Last year, Taylor-Hughes said they received donations amounting to nearly 12 million pounds of food.

Even with the high volume of donations, the executive director said they rarely receive items that need to be thrown away.

“We’re still getting a lot of really good and viable food so we’re really grateful for that,” she said.

With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Stephanie Tsicos