Are food labels past their use-by date?
Last week, I ended up having at least a five minute discussion with my parents about whether we should eat a naan bread that was over a month past its ‘best-before end’ date.
Questions like ‘these eggs are a few days out of date, they’ll be ok won’t they?’ and ‘do you think this bacon is it still ok to eat?’ are all too common in my house, and I’m sure they are in many others across the country too.
If I had to guess the answer to these questions, I would say yes – they are fine to eat, mainly because I’m still alive and haven’t been violently ill from out-of-date food. It turns out the naan bread was very nice too.
Normally, when we talk about food being out-of-date, it usually is not. It is more than likely to have past its best-before end (BBE) date. A totally different concept to mandatory ‘use-by’ date labels which refer to the safety of eating perishable foods, BBEs offer guidance on when the optimum quality of the item will start to diminish. However, people are now taking BBE labels to be an absolute rule, rather than a guide. As a result, on average in the UK about 5.3 million tonnes of food is wasted every year.
Where has the ‘waste not, want not’ mantra of the older generations disappeared to? I’m sure in the 1940s when a World War was raging women wouldn’t have wasted their rations on buying flour or lard just because theirs had been sitting in the cupboard for a few months.
The UK government is now reviewing BBE labels, along with ‘sell-by’ and ‘display until’ labels, in an attempt to make the system less confusing for consumers and reduce our food waste. They have asked for the focus to be taken away from BBEs, and more concentration given to ‘use by’ dates on foods that have definitive shelf lives – things like milk and yoghurt.
When it comes to food, the main concern for food manufacturers should be its safety. If it will be unsafe to eat something past a certain date, we should know. However, when it comes to quality, it should be down to the consumer’s common sense to decide whether or not something should be thrown away.