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Best before and use-by: How to eat “gone off” food and not die

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Bread. Likes: butter, your face, and bins.

I felt very slightly queasy yesterday. The soup was four days past the use-by, but I ate it anyway because I couldn’t bear to let it go to waste. Ah, I was fine. Didn’t get sick or nothing. Grrrr…

Later that day I came across some research from safefood Ireland, which showed that one in three people think that best before and use-by dates are the same thing, while 44 per cent know there is a difference between them but aren’t sure which is which.

Really? I’m not sure how much clearer it could be: surely anybody who doesn’t get the difference is merely refusing to engage their brain. The meaning of a “best before” date is clearly an advisory that food is at its best before a particular date, but that it may begin to deteriorate soon after. The meaning of a “use by” date is clearly a direction that food should be used by a particular date or it will go off.

Safefood’s research found people waste bread more than other food (43 per cent), followed by fruit (15 per cent), dairy products (12 per cent), vegetables (10 per cent), and cooked meat (4 per cent).

There’s some obvious basics for reducing your food waste. Freeze half your bread when you buy it. Make soup with withering vegetables. Bake a cake: black bananas often end up in the bin, but Jean has an excellent recipe for banana bread which uses them up. Make a smoothie.

When it comes to throwing food out, use your good sense. Tinned foods will keep for many years after the best before, provided they are kept in a cool, dry place. Don’t throw out crisps or chocolates that have passed their best before: put them in your mouth first and spit them out if they’re a bit stale. I personally guarantee that you probably won’t die.**

My dad pays no attention to either best before or use-by dates, swearing blind that food producers tend to be over-cautious. He says that most food is good for a little while after the use-by: sniff the milk or the sausages and let your nose be your guide. He once, famously, ate a chicken that had been in the fridge for over a week.

In summary: best before is a guideline, use by is a deadline. Knowing this basic difference can prevent food waste and save you money.

But what would I know? Sure I nearly poisoned myself yesterday.

Do you pay attention to best before and use-by dates? What do you waste most, and do you have any great tips for using up food that’s reaching the end of its life?

** Disclaimer: I’m not a scientician so you’re best off not believing me and if you try to sue me because you’ve been a bit of an eejit I’ll point the court towards this disclaimer and tell them I have no money and then I’ll run away.

4 Comments

  1. Random bread-ends are great for making breadcrumbs,which can be frozen,and used for loads of things……stuffing,adding to home-made burgers,coating fish chicken etc.
    Stale bread is fantastic for good old gur cake,as is left over Christmas cake and plum pudding.
    Oranges,apples,lemons can be sliced and dehydrated over a few days and used to make pot-pourri.
    Of course,you acn make great dog food with gone of veg and meat…….just boil up bones,add barley and mix the veg and meat through.Bag up in portion size bags and freeze……more nutritious and a heck of a lot cheaper than commercial dog food.

  2. Random bread-ends are great for making breadcrumbs,which can be frozen,and used for loads of things……stuffing,adding to home-made burgers,coating fish chicken etc.
    Stale bread is fantastic for good old gur cake,as is left over Christmas cake and plum pudding.
    Oranges,apples,lemons can be sliced and dehydrated over a few days and used to make pot-pourri.
    Of course,you acn make great dog food with gone of veg and meat…….just boil up bones,add barley and mix the veg and meat through.Bag up in portion size bags and freeze……more nutritious and a heck of a lot cheaper than commercial dog food.

  3. I find that bread in our house don’t go stale, it goes mouldy very quickly. It’s certainly due to the dampness as we live close to the sea. I’ve tried making it into breadcrumbs but ended up with bags and bags of frozen breadcrumbs. I now buy a loaf, we eat half of it fresh and I plan my meals around the remainder with cheese pudding, croque monsieurs, soups with croutons, etc… Home made bread will keep for much longer in fact as it dries out rather than mould.
    I always forage at the back of the supermarket shelves for the longest use by dates (or BB dates). But sometimes the food goes off well before that date, I once had to bring back chicken that smelled like it had been dead for a month. Yuck.
    For the rest, I trust my very sharp nose. If it smells ok, I’ll eat it, regardless of the date, evn the ‘use by’ dates. I also reckon nothing happens on the stroke of midnight, if it’s still good to eat the night before it will be ok the morning after.
    For best before dates, I use common sense: it might still be ok to eat but not entirely pleasant. Yogurt is live bacteria and can be eaten weeks after the best before date without any problem. The best before dates on fruits and vegs remain a mistery to me: if it’s still firm and shiny, then it’s still fresh. If not, vegs go in a soup and fruits in fruit purees. Bananas go in cakes and muffins.
    For eggs, I do the water test: lying on the side at the bottom of a glass of water = fresh. stand upright = still ok. Floating = bin

  4. We keep our sliced bread in the freezer always. A slice of bread breaks off easily and defrosts quickly. When I make homemade bread I often slice it and freeze it in ice-cream tubs. We rarely throw out food, it either goes into smoothies, soups or the dog! I don’t believe in BB dates either, I agree with Nanazolie on using your nose!

    My parents don’t believe in BB dates either, Dad makes his own cheese and keffir, the more pungent the flavour the better in his book. I am sure he’s full of natural antibiotics keeping him alive and well….

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