Expiry dates on food

Can a bag of sugar really go off? What about a bottle of vinegar, or dried pasta?  What about honey?  After all there was honey found in King Tutankhamuns tomb that was still edible after more than 2000 years! So why do these things have a date label to tell us when to use them by?

Is it really neccessary, after all European law allows fresh produce to be sold with no labels on what so ever.  When you're at a market the assumption is that you can be trusted to use your own common sense to assess if your fruit and veg is fresh or not.

I'm not the only one who finds this confusing, surveys have found that 50% of us admit to not really understanding these date labels. And you only need visit a landfill site in Shropshire to see the consequences of this.  Whole unopened packets of biscuits, loaves of bread, uneaten bars of chocolate even, bags of potatoes and untouched tins of beans litter the piles of domestic rubbish which arrive daily.

Its insane, and one of the main causes of avoidable food waste is these dates.  So here's a simple guide:

  • Use by dates - are basically the important ones - you need to try and stick to these because using food after this date could be bad for you.  You can however freeze food right up to its use by date to save it for another day.
  • Best before dates - are just an advisory thing, they relate to product quality, such as freshness, so when these dates run out you can still eat it but it just might not be as tasty.
  • Display until and sell by dates - are just for staff stock takes, not for us. You can ignore these.

Basically then the key thing is that best before dates really arent worth paying much attention to. The only exception would be eggs where because of the risk of salmonella I have to remind you that the official advice is to use them by their best before date.

Hopefully if more people understand things like this better we can reduce the amount of rubbish being generated in Shropshire which will save taxpayers money.  Another benefit of reducing food waste is that it can save you money directly.  Most people throw away hundreds of pounds worth of food each year, so visit the Love Food Hate Waste website for more detailed information on date labels and other ideas which could save you money on your food shopping.



James Thompson James Thompson

Waste Prevention Officer, Waste Management, Shropshire Council

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