FOR YEARS now, discussion has raged as to the amount of food wastage incurred domestically, as well as in our industry, although not so much as the former. The millions of tons representing 12bn pounds per year wasted have a lot to do with sell by/use by/best before dates. I notice the UK milk marketing board has challenged the governments date policy saying that no one need a use by date as it’s pretty obvious when you can no longer use/drink milk!! This is not new, in 2011 the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said that sell by and display until dates would be replaced with ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates.

Dates that I do think are useful are packaging and display until/best before dates. For instance if in a supermarket a packet of fish states it was ‘packed’ say on 6/4 and the ‘display until date’ says the 8/4 that make sense. The buyer can then decide if they are going to consume it before say the weekend (in this case 11/4) or whether to freeze it down for later use — or give it to the cat!!

One good thing about sell by dates is that shops tend to put those items that are ‘out-of-date’ as ‘bargain buys’. I know people who will not purchase anything past its ‘sell by /consume before’ dates. But astute shoppers can save quite a lot of money.

October 20- perfectly OK
October 25 – still drinkable
October 31st – Why is this still in the fridge?!!

In my, not so, humble opinion the information that would be more helpful to the buyer, the supplier and would save tons of wastage are the following:

FISH: Caught/farmed date — packed on date —   display until date

MEAT : Slaughter date — packed on date —   consume preferably by date

DAIRY/VEGETABLES ETC.     Best before date

There is a huge difference between the labelling used — and used intelligently could benefit all parties. You pays your money……….!With frozen/jarred and tinned products that technically will not go past their best if kept in their original state, the date of packaging is the only guide that the buyer needs. We have all heard stories about canned food from the war days still being opened to be found in edible condition. I opened a tin of water chestnuts the other day that I have had in my cupboard for more than 10 years. The only reason I knew how old it was, was because of the ‘sell by date’. Totally unnecessary, they were perfect!!

Most people know that a good quality piece of meat needs to hang for a couple of weeks minimum before eating. Many years ago I met a meat buyer for Marks and Spencer. He had to get up at three in the morning to get to the meat market as he had to buy the finest quality of meat available. Nothing strange about that, but he had also to make sure it was bright red, as, if it showed any brown/greenish tinges and dark yellow fat (the signs of good aging) their customers would not buy it! That meat should carry a label: