Thursday, 15 September 2011

'Sell By' Dates set to expire?

There's a lot of hoo-ha going around the newspapers today regarding the dates that appear on the packaging of boxes, cartons and wrappers that go in our baskets and trolleys. You know how those reporters like to make mountains out of molehills! Some of the headlines make my blood boil - "Sell-by dates to be scrapped to cut food waste" is a prime example from the BBC News website today - as they don't make it clear enough that, although some of the advisory dates are changing, there will still be dates on food wrappings.

Headlines aside, there seems to be a tug of war going on between the government who wants to cut the amount of edible food that we throw away and the food companies and supermarkets who are petrified of getting sued after consumers eating gone off produce. I can see where both are coming from - as a nation, we throw away the equivalent of £12 million a year in food which we've bought but don't eat and during 2010, there were over 84,500 cases of food poisoning in England and Wales. We need to find a happy medium that, at the end of the day, benefits us 'normal folk' as consumers.

Dates on food packaging can be useful; they're used by the supermarkets for stock rotation (whereby the seller takes measures to ensure that the oldest stock is sold first which in itself reduces waste) and many consumers use them as a guide when planning how to use the contents of their fridge or larder. Having a 'Used by' date on packaging for food which is deemed perishable (foods which need to be kept refrigerated) is actually a legal requirement in the UK in order to ensure that the food that we buy is 'safe' to eat.

The change in guidelines which are being publicised will banish 'Expiry' dates on items which won't actually become hazardous to health after a certain date and replace it with a 'Best Before' date. This would apply to things like vegetables, dried pasta or jam and it's like saying "you'd like to enjoy this item to the max, you're better off eating it before Tuesday when it won't make you ill but might not taste quite as good".

Any changes to the way we perceive food is a positive in my book but, to me, this doesn't go quite far enough. Although some bacteria that is present in food that has 'gone off' doesn't change the smell or appearance of the food, I do think that a little common sense and knowledge does go a long way. I feel like this needs to be taught, along with nutrition and cost effective cooking measures, in schools while children are still developing their relationship with food and their ideas about meals. There are a few ways that I would test an apple, onion or cucumber, for example, to see if they were past their best.

Craving more information about cutting down your food waste? Check out Love Food Hate Waste for hints and tips on everything from cutting down the amount that you buy to canny uses of those pesky leftovers.

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