Saturday, 4 June 2011

GROCERIES: When to worry about 'best before' dates

Watch 'best before' or 'sell by' dates

I am not a type of person that is concerned about food that is the fridge or freezer for a while. Coming from a Country where food do not suppose to be wasted, unless no choice; it's hard to see someone throw out food while cleaning the fridge because the date says "best before..."
In matter of fact, buying "best before..." foods  not only it's safe, but can save money.

As the "sell by" or "best before" date approaches, you are virtually guaranteed a discount. For example, grocery stores lower prices as meat ages. Ask the butcher when the meats get marked down. Most stores have a fairly regular schedule that you can learn and follow. When you get a good deal, stock your freezer so you can avoid buying when the price is high. And if you plan on freezing the food, "best before" dates shouldn't worry you; the product will stay fresh until you thaw and cook it.

When to worry about 'best before' dates
Once firm, juicy and brilliantly red, those reduced-price tomatoes are looking a little soft now that they've passed their best before date - but don't reach for the compost bin just yet.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), best before dates don't indicate whether a product is safe to eat. Instead, they tell shoppers when food loses its optimum freshness. After the best before date, perishables like meat, dairy and salad greens may lose some colour, but they are probably no more dangerous to eat than the day before.

"Best before means best before. It doesn't mean don't eat after," says Eunince Li-Chan, a professor with the University of British Columbia's (UBC) Faculty of Land and Food Systems. "(People) shouldn't need to throw stuff away, as long as they've kept it properly."

But Li-Chan is skeptical whether consumers understand the difference between a best before date, which appears on packaged goods with a shelf life of 90 days or less, and an expiry date, which appears on products such as infant formula and dietary supplements. You might even see food in the bakery aisle sporting a packaged on date: the day the product was placed in the package in which it is to be sold.

With all the different labels, some consumers may accidentally throw out food that is perfectly edible, thinking it's no longer good to eat because it's passed its best before date, and in a time of rising food costs, this is no small investment.

In the United Kingdom, shoppers are so bewildered by the different dates on packaged foods that the coalition government is considering scrapping best before dates altogether.

Those who argue for dumping the labels say it will help curb food waste. According to the U.K.-based Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP), the U.K. throws away about 8.3 million tonnes, or 4,700 Olympic-size pools, of food and drink each year. And most of that could have been consumed.

Kevin Allen, an assistant professor of food microbiology in the Department of Food Nutrition and Health at UBC, also thinks the government-regulated date labels may be confusing shoppers.

"What I think people do is equate that best before date with some sort of implication of food safety, which you absolutely cannot do," he says, adding that best before dates don't guarantee a product is free of harmful bacteria, either before or after the date has passed.

Most likely, if a product is contaminated with a pathogen, such as salmonella, it was tainted long before you brought it home.

Allen says 30% of the poultry we consume will have Salmonella on it, and 60% will have Campylobacter (another bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses). These pathogens can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever, and the symptoms usually stay for a whole, agonizing week.

"It's fairly safe to assume that when we have poultry in our refrigerator at home, we also have pathogens on it," says Allen.

Although it's unlikely a pathogen can contaminate food once it has reached your fridge, the longer it stays in the fridge, the more opportunity it has to multiply. In some cases, it takes large amounts of a pathogen to cause any ill effects in a healthy individual, so it could be beneficial to throw out a product sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, says Allen, there is no easy way to tell whether food is contaminated with harmful bacteria. Despite what your college roommate may have told you, your nose is not an adequate judge of the safety of weeks-old milk.


"Best before" - Also known as "durable life," this label indicates the amount of time a product will retain its freshness, colour, nutritional value and flavour. It is mandatory on pre-packaged products that have a shelf life of 90 day or less. Remember, once the seal is broken, the best before date is no longer valid.

"Expiry" - Expiration dates are found on dietary supplements and infant formula. After this date has passed, the manufacturer cannot guarantee the unopened product will retain the nutritional content indicated on the label.

"Packaged on" - This is the date a product is placed in the package it is to be sold in. It's often accompanied by a best before date, and appears mostly on bakery products, such as bread.

This story was posted on Sat, June 4, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment