Kate Hawkesby: Do we take use-by dates too seriously?

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Thursday, 14 February 2019, 7:02a.m.
Don't most of us just do the sniff test on most food and drink items? Photo / Getty Images
Don't most of us just do the sniff test on most food and drink items? Photo / Getty Images

COMMENT:

Are we a bit too fussy with our use-by dates?

I discovered yesterday after a particularly rank cup of tea that my milk was off.

In fact, it'd expired eight days ago - 8 whole days - yet I hadn't even checked or noticed... until I tasted it.

Kids though, they're extremely 'woke' these days when it comes to knowing what's on food labels, when things expire, and where products come from. Which is a good thing by the way.

But are we a little too precious about the expiry thing?

Is a two-day old passed its expiry date yoghurt, for example, the end of the world? If it's not off and still smelling legit, surely there's no issue.

Perhaps it's my Scottish heritage that makes me loath to throw things away unnecessarily. 
Maybe I'm turning into my grandmother in not tossing anything out until it's literally curdling in front of me.

But a study commissioned recently by an environmental group called Feedback Global organisation, found that 'a hundred million pints of milk are being thrown away in Britain, each year'.

They claim it's unnecessary because the use-by dates are "overly cautious" and they want supermarkets to extend use-by periods by up to three days.

But what are the variables being taken into account when setting these use-by dates, especially for a product with a lifespan like milk? Obviously storage and refrigeration's a factor.

But doesn't common sense come into it too? Don't most of us just do the sniff test on most things?

I know that's true in our house. Kids often turn their nose up at something with an 'expiry' date when it's really the 'use-by' one you have to worry about.

But the food waste issue is more than just milk of course.

Here in New Zealand, according to the 'Love Food Hate Waste' group, we throw away the equivalent of 213 jumbo jets full of food every year in our little country.

The number one thing we waste is bread, tossing out the crusts at the end of the loaf.

There's a Save a Crust campaign underway in London as we speak in fact, given Brits throw away 1.2 billion food crusts each year, according to food experts.

So how much of it is because it's off, how much is because we didn't store it properly, and how much of it is just sheer laziness? Forgot to eat the leftovers, biff them. Can't be bothered with crusts, chuck them.

While industry and environmental organisations work to reduce food waste, it's food for thought about how we can do better at home too.

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