Have Sell-By Dates Sold Out?

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I read an article this morning about how the Government are considering ditching sell-by dates on food products in order to curb wastage of food.

The article says;

Environment minister Hilary Benn told the Chartered Institution of Waste Management’s Futuresource conference the labelling system can be transformed by potentially phasing out sell-by and display-until dates…

…He said sell-by dates are used by retailers for stock control but can end up confusing customers into throwing away perfectly good food.

“When we buy food it should be easy to know how long we should keep it for and how we should store it,” said Mr Benn.

“Too many of us are putting things in the bin simply because we’re not sure, we’re confused by the label, or we’re just playing safe…””

Personally, I have always been cynical of sell by dates anyway – I could never really understand how ‘Mr Supermarket’ could accurately predict the longevity of my food items.  Surely this is bordering on clairvoyancy?

But on the subject of wastage I totally agree.  According to the news article “£10 billion of edible food is dumped every year” in the UK.  This is totally unnecessary wastage, and possibly one that many people cannot really afford.

And its not just the cost to our pocket.  According to a recent GLA report, “Londoners eat a staggering eight billion meals a year and produce nearly 19 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions”.   According to the report, these figures take into consideration travelling to the shops and restaurants and the storing, preparation, eating and throwing away food.   So there is the environmental cost of wastage as well to consider.

I have known people throw away an apple because it has a bruise on it.  Or a banana where the skin has split slightly.  I say ‘cut off the offending bit and eat the rest’…but then I can’t understand why there would be ‘use-by’ dates on fruit and veg items anyway.   Surely if it is mouldy or rancid you can tell quite easily?

I never really thought of ‘sell-by’ dates as being for supermarket stock control, although now I think about it makes perfect sense.  I always assumed that these dates were a ‘guidance’ for consumers…but even so, I have always been of the opinion that if food items are a few days ‘out of date’ but seem to smell and look ok then its alright to eat them anyway.   Some recipes actually work better with food that is slightly off – think about using stale bread in a bread and butter pudding recipe for example.

So much of our food (from supermarkets anyway) is heat treated, disinfected, packaged, sealed and sterialised anyway, so much so that is would probaby last a nuclear fall out!  So I can’t imagine that it is going to do you much damage if it was eaten past its sell by date…

In my grandparent’s era when there were no sell-by dates on food and drink.  There was no Government / EU intervention or hand-holding then – the only way they knew if something was edible or not was by using common sense. 

So I think scrapping sell by dates can only be a good thing.  There would probably be some initial confusion to start with, being that ‘hand-holding’ from the powers that be is almost becoming the norm in our society.  But something does need to be done to change these inaccurate preconceptions around ‘sell-by’ dates, ‘use-by’ dates, and ‘display-until’ dates.  

Wastage of food on this scale is a disgrace.


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