‘Best Before’ dates: are they necessary, do they add to food waste, a retail ploy?


Hard cheesesRecently I have read about a European campaign whereby the ‘Best Before’ dates of foods are being more critically evaluated, seen to having been a ploy by manufacturers to get more of their products sold.  Now the European Union is getting involved in standardising ‘Best Before’ dates for food types, to reduce the 89 million tons of food thrown away in Europe annually, of which at least 10% is still edible. A third of all food produced in Europe is thrown away.

Most food products have two dates, the one being the sell-by date, being the date which the manufacturer feels is the ideal to give the product perfect consistency, taste, and nutritional value; and the other being the ‘Best Before’ date until when it is safe to eat the product.   The longer the time period between date of manufacture and sell-by date, the longer the product is edible after the ‘Best Before’ date.

The European Union has decreed that pasta, rice,coffee, jams, pickles, and hard cheeses should no longer have ‘Best Before’ dates, in a campaign driven by Dutch Minister of Agriculture Sharon Dijksma to reduce the massive food waste in Europe.

Berlin has developed a campaign whereby edible food that one no longer wants to eat can be deposited in fridges around the city, shared with other needy persons for free.

To make products last longer, it is advised that:

*   Cold meat, salads, and citrus fruit should not be kept in aluminium foil

*  any containers that are blown or buckled be thrown away, even if they ahve not reached their ‘Best Before’ date.

*  cheese and cold meats should be kept in closed containers in a fridge, adding sugar cubes to absorb the moisture and to make the cheese last longer.

*   sliced bread should be kept in a plastic bag in the fridge, and never in a paper packet.

South Africa is equally guilty of throwing away large amounts of still-edible food, much of which is scratched out of rubbish bins on pavements on garbage collection days, in may instances no longer safe to eat, especially in summer.  A safe-food collection system for destitute locals, as in Berlin, would be an excellent community service.  Many restaurants already offer their left-over ingredients to charity organisations.  Even MasterChef SA allows a Paarl charity organisation to collect its left-over foods.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: WhaleCottage

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