Friday, 12 June 2009

Best Before...

How much attention to you pay to 'Sell-by' and 'Best Before' dates? I tend to use them as more of a guide rather than a deadline, I'll admit. Some things are perfectly edible for weeks past their stated 'Use By' date while other things seem to have gone off before you've even left the supermarket so the whole thing is a pretty grey area. The whole subject has been brought to the fore-front of my mind by this article by the Telegraph. Hilary Benn, our environmental minister, would like to scrap the current 'Sell-by' date system to minimise food waste as she believes it creates confusion, meaning that usable food is being thrown away when it's still perfectly good to eat. Indeed, the figures used, quoted from the Food Standards Agency, make pretty shocking reading. An average UK home throws away about £400-worth of edible food a year, while everyday "five million potatoes, 4.4 million whole apples, one million loaves of bread and one million slices of ham" are disposed of when they could've actually been eaten.

That's a lot of waste. Boo and hiss to these nasty little numbers says Hilary. But they must be useful for something, right? It's all to do with shelf-life and I could go into all the different terms and their meanings but that'd bore us both and we can't have that. Needless to say, different kinds of products have different lifespans and while some merely aren't as tasty when they're getting on a bit, some become hazardous to eat. This is usually reflected by the relevant "Display Until" term on the packaging. The main thing is that products are stamped with a Sell-by/Display Until/Best Before/etc because it supposedly benefits both the retailer (or Supermarket) and the consumer (that's you!). Under European law, all products sold in supermarkets and the like need an indication of lifespan. This means that you can fill your basket knowing that the products you choose aren't past their best as the supermarket can tell for definite what is good and what is getting a bit Grandad. Once you get home, you can ensure that your food will be a certain standard when you eat it if you follow the advised date and the retailer has an expiry date on their own liability. The difficulty lies with the date itself - how accurate are they? I tend to eat things that are a little out of date but I'm careful to smell/look at them closely first. If something is going to be cooked all the way through, it should kill all the bacteria in it anyway. Still, I'm an impoverished and unemployed graduate (as of two weeks time!) and I hate waste...

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