Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Law Behind "Best Before" Dates


Most of the products in Blighty's Tuck Store are stamped with "Best Before" dates. Many people completely misinterpret these dates and a huge amount of perfectly good food goes to waste as a result. This short article explains why.

Who Determines (UK) "Best Before" Dates
"Best Before" dates are mandated in UK law under the Food Labelling Regulations of 1996. Compliance with the regulations is enforced by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs).

What Does "Best Before" Mean?
"Best before" dates relate to food quality, including taste, texture, aroma and appearance, whilst "use by" dates relate to food safety. The "best before" date is a quality indication used by the manufacturer to indicate that the food will be, assuming correct storage has been maintained, at its best before a certain date. A food which is past its "best before" date should be safe to eat, but may not be at its best quality after this date.

Who Determines "Best Before" Dates?
"Best Before" dates are determined by the manufacturer, packer or EU seller. They are based on a "reasonable expectation" that the product will be in good condition until the date indicated. It is important to note that there is no mandate for testing to verify that the date indicated is realistic.

Are "Best Before" Dates Realistic?
Rather than express an opinion I will use a statement printed on a British beer bottle purchased in Canada:

"Although we are obliged to state a best before date of 2015, like a fine wine or whisky, this mellow golden ale will improve with age for many more years."

In other words, the manufacturer is complying with government regulations while also stating very candidly that the "best before" date on its product is nonsense and should be ignored.

Personal experience of eating products long past their "best before" dates suggests that most are simply labelled in compliance with government bureaucracy and can safely be ignored.

Why Should You Care?
At Blighty's, products that have passed their "best before" dates are sold at a discount (usually 50%). The cost of this financial loss is built-in to the price of every product in the store. However, wise shoppers who understand what these dates really mean can save money by purchasing reduced price products that have passed their "best before" date.

On the other side of the coin, shoppers who strictly adhere to these dates can depend on this: they will have to spend more of their income on food and will be responsible for contributing to the colossal amount of perfectly good food entering the world's landfills every year.

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