Best-before, sell-by and use-by dates – what do they mean and should we pay attention to them?
Confusion around these ubiquitous dates, which supermarkets like to stamp on anything from fresh fruit to canned tomatoes, has meant that we’re binning much more food that we need to. While use-by dates are necessary, reserved for highly perishable foods, like meat and fish, best-before and sell-by dates are really just a marker for quality. These dates are simply the shop’s guess as to when they think food might be less tasty to eat, but it does not mean it’ll will be unsafe to consume.
Problems arise when we confuse best-before or sell-by dates for use-by dates, assuming that some foods are unsafe to eat and must be thrown away, even when they’re perfectly edible. The best way to counter this is to get savvy. Learn how to tell for yourself when food is off, irrelevant of what the dates tell us. Better storage, keeping your fridge and freezer at the correct temperature and getting clever with using up stale ingredients can really help to reduce the food we waste.
Here are a few basic pointers to help you save the foods we waste the most:
Best-before dates are usually pretty accurate, but check for yourself before binning them. There are a couple of simple tests you can do to check for freshness (Delia will tell you) and if you’re looking to use them up, you’re not short of recipes either. A quick google or my Turkish shakshouka will sort you out.
YOGHURT & MILK
Ignore best-before dates – if it tastes or smells ok, then it’s probably ok. I find organic milk lasts up to a week longer than the regular stuff, while yoghurt usually stays good for at least two weeks past the recommended. If you’re unlikely to use milk or yoghurt in time, freeze it, or if you’ve got a stray yoghurt pot in the fridge, transform it into this yummy yoghurt cake. Click here for the recipe.
You can’t eat mouldy soft cheese, but when it comes to hard cheese, simply cut off the mould. If you’re unlikely to use up hard cheese anytime soon, grate it into sandwich bags and freeze. Sprinkle it straight from frozen onto pasta bakes or pizzas and into omelettes or lasagnes, before cooking. Easy.
Keep little bits of Parmesan rinds too, then add to soup while it cooks for extra flavour. Just make sure you remove it before serving as it’s not so great to bite into.
For more ideas on how to use up leftover bits of cheese, see my cheesy pasta recipe.
We waste a whopping 2.6 billion slices of bread every year in the UK. Don’t feed the statistic! Scrape white or green mould off bread, then eat toasted (if the mould is black, however, throw it away).
Stale bread is a staple of traditional recipes in so many countries. Take bread and butter pudding, Italian panzanella or Spanish gazpacho, for example. Alternatively, you could tear leftover bread into a food processor for homemade breadcrumbs. If they’re fresh, pop them in the freezer, or if they’re stale, leave them to dry out before storing in an airtight jar at room temperature. Or, cut bread into croutons and leave to dry out in the oven at a low temperature.
Thanks to their high acidity levels, fruit is often good to eat far beyond the best-before date. If there are any mouldy bits, then cut them off first. If you’ve got fruit that you don’t think you’ll eat in time, simply chop it up, bag it and freeze. Frozen fruit can be added straight into smoothies, cooked down into a simple compote or added to pies.
Bananas are our most wasted fruit! For more ideas on how to use them up, click here.
LETTUCE & OTHER VEG
Of all the salad bought in the UK, 45% of it ends up in the bin. Fortunately, if we take them out of their plastic packaging, trim the base and place upright in a glass with a little water at the base, they’ll last a lot longer. Keep hardy veg, like potatoes and squash, in brown paper bags at room temperature. Other veg keep pretty well in the fridge, and supermarket packaging is getting better at helping produce stay fresher for longer.
To keep herbs fresh for as long as possible, trim the stalks, then wrap in kitchen paper and store in the fridge. This doesn’t work for basil though – when storing basil, trim the stalks, place in a glass with a few centimeters of water and keep at room temperature. If you’ve got leftover herbs, click here to save them from the bin.
For more helpful tips on storing food, see Love Food Hate Waste’s website.