With food waste being such a big problem, it’s very difficult to throw away those products that unintentionally stayed in the fridge a week later than expected.
Without really thinking about it, most of us just follow the sell-by-date, presuming that the food goes off overnight. Apart from the big food waste issues this contributes to, we are also unnecessarily wasting a lot of money.
So how should you be reading these dates?
Best before date
Best before dates refer to the quality of products. This is the suggested date that food should be consumed.
The sell by date actually refers to the products shelf-life in store – this is the recommended time the product should be sold at marketable quality.
The use-by date indicates the recommended time by which products should be consumed.
When looking at these terms it’s clear that all these dates are recommended. The products are not necessarily unsafe to eat after these dates. We should keep in mind that brands need to keep their names safe and provide a guideline that meets the highest and safest quality, while also making maximum profit.
Recently, our Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, spoke out on the topic stating – “Best-before does not indicate when food will be expiring, it’s for companies to know that, even though these things won’t spoil, they have been on shelves long enough and they must rotate stock.” At the same time the expiry date, which indicates the point food will perish, does not mean that food past the date will “automatically become poison”.
We should rather be paying attention to storing our products in the most effective way, instead of blindly following use-by dates and throwing away food that might’ve been good for another few days.
Taking a look at different foods
Meat and poultry
It’s usually still safe to eat meat for 3 – 5 days after use-by date; and poultry is usually safe for another 1 – 2 days. However, when freezing these products, they can last for months after the mentioned date.
Eggs usually last for another 3 -5 weeks after the sell-by date.
Yoghurt, milk and cheese are usually safe until signs of spoilage. Fresh milk is said to still be safe for around five days after the sell-by date. It’s important to check for signs of spoilage like a bad smell, mould or a weird consistency.
Pasta already has a long shelf life but it can usually last for a lot longer if stored properly! Keep your pasta in an airtight container and store it in a cool and dry place to lengthen its lifetime to up to one or two years.
Cereals and grains
If cereals and grains are stored in cool, dry conditions (and closed packaging of course), they usually stay good for months. Look out for weird smells or flavours – otherwise these products should be perfect.
If cans are stored in dry and cool conditions and remain undented, they can last to up to double their suggested lifetime (which is usually years). Look out for rust or dents, as the mixture of air and moisture caused by even a tiny opening can spur the growth of dangerous bacteria and contaminate the food. Otherwise canned foods are likely to be safe.
These are all based on recommendations, but the most important part of eating foods past the sell-by date would be to look out for clear signs of it being off.
So, next time you walk past the discount section in Checkers with items near the expiration date, don’t be afraid of stocking up. Also, be on the lookout for discount stores that sell items that are past the sell-by date for ridiculously low prices.
A discount store called Kos has been trading products near the use-by date in Somerset-West for a few years, and recently opened branches in Kuilsriver, Paarl and Durbanville. They sell all things good, from cereals, to cookies, to rusks at about half the price you would find them for in retail shops. Take a look at some of their specials on your next visit to one of these towns.
Would you buy food past its sell-by date? Pop your thoughts in the comments down below.