3.9.10

How old is too old? (or 'sniff it and see')

Every now and again on Twitter someone says they have chucked away a yoghurt 3 days past the 'use by' date, or asks if bread 2 days past the sell by date is OK to eat or........well you get the idea. They want to know if they can safely consume an item of food that seems to be saying  

NO! DON'T EAT ME, YESTERDAY I WAS FINE 
BUT TODAY I AM FILLED WITH POISONOUS BACTERIA 
THAT WILL KILL YOU IN AN INSTANT 
WITH PAIN YOU CAN ONLY IMAGINE 

or something like that anyway.

I am old enough to know that expiry dates are a fairly new invention. Yes young people you read that right, we have not always been told when food is 'past it's best'. For hundreds, indeed thousands of years we used our own judgement! We looked at things, smelled them, touched them and decided 'is it still good'? (* when I say 'we' I do not, obviously, mean me! I mean the human race, I'm not thousands of years old, or hundreds come to that!)



And in some cases we still do. While supermarkets may wrap your vegetables in a plastic bag with a sticker proclaiming 'use by 9 Feb 2010' your local green grocer is unlikely to do the same, my local green grocer sells cucumbers, they are long and firm and green and that's it! I have to fondle the cucumber and decide how fresh it is! Is it soft? getting limp? then I'll ask if it's discounted or buy a firmer one! (are you all right? some of you appear a little flushed?)

Likewise my butcher does not put 'use by' dates on his pork products, i have to admire his loins and decide if they are fresh, are they greenish in hue? Do they smell? If not, I'm happy, a pink fresh loin is most women's dream, as are his sausages and his faggots! but I digress.

Until 1973 no stores in the UK used best before dates at all! And it was Marks and Spencer that began the trend purely as a marketing technique, to show how 'fresh' their food was! Of course all other food sellers leapt on to the bandwagon to be sure and keep up with the new trend.

It's true that some foods nowadays are hard to see. How can I tell if a tin of beans is 'fresh' or if a carton of orange juice is? and the simple answer is of course that I can't, like the rest of society I rely to some degree on labelling of the packets, but wouldn't it be easier to tell me when it was packed rather than a use by date? When I bake a cake I estimate how long it will last (bad example - 10 minutes in my house) by the date it was baked and then I use judgement.

When I open a loaf of bread and it had a patch of mould on it, I tear off the blue bit and toast the bread! I only throw away the whole loaf if it's more mould than loaf or if the flavour is totally tainted. Marmite can disguise a multitude of tastes.



And yoghurt is gone off milk! As is cheese, it can't go off! Sniff it! how does it smell? I've often eaten yoghurts 2 weeks past their 'use by' dates with no ill effects at all. And cheese can usually just have the mould cut off - after all cheddar is often already 24 months old by the time you buy it! So why would another month make any difference?

But I'm not alone, I am aware that many of you eat food that you have judged to be OK. Just remember it's a skill, learn it, pass it on, don't be afraid, trust your instincts.  My good friend Donna on Twitter sent me this handy link to get you started.

And don't come crying back here if you get sick.


Remember that this advice is just from a boring old person, not anyone clever and don't take risks with the elderly, the very young or the infirm. (No testing mouldy yoghurt out on your granny!)

PS   A website called Love Food Hate Waste perpetuates the myth by saying NEVER eat food past the use by date, which is just silly IMO. They even tell you 'if it looks fine, still throw it away!  I still say that for cheese and many other products this is ridiculous.


If you would like to buy some out of date food to practice on - look here for some cheap deals. Yes indeedy, an online retailer that specialises in old food!