Monday, 2 February 2015

Understand your food dates labelling and save money

CAMBRIDGE City Council is encouraging residents to find out more about dates on food labels to help eat safely, save money and the environment.

The dates are there to help us use food when it is safe and at its best. By understanding what ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates mean we can take control and make effective use of the food we buy while saving money and reducing waste at the same time.

Questions over date labels are common – only 36% of us correctly understand the term ‘Use By’  and by getting dates in a muddle, we can easily end up throwing away food that is perfectly edible or eating food that is potentially unsafe.

A survey by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that just under half of the good food and drink that we end up throwing away (worth £5.6 billion) is because we don’t use it in time: either because it has gone off or passed the date on the packaging.

Cllr Peter Roberts, Executive Councillor for Environment, Waste and Public Health, said: “By taking better control of food, residents not only benefit financially and eat safely but also throw away less, reducing their impact on the environment.”

“It’s worth taking the time to understand dates on food labels and organise oneself in the kitchen to make sure food is not wasted.”

The most important dates to remember are the ‘Use By’ and the ‘Best Before’ dates.

The ‘Use By’ date is there for your safety and is only found on foods where there is a safety risk.  Therefore, food should not be eaten past this date, but it can be eaten or frozen right up to it. While the ‘Best Before’ date relates to quality – it will be at its peak condition at this time – food will still be safe to eat after the date, but it may not be at its best.

The ‘Sell By’ and ‘Display Until’ dates are just for the shops for internal stock control, not shoppers so they can be safely ignored. If others in your house always throw food away at its ‘Sell By’ why not scribble it out – just make sure you leave any ‘Use By’ date clearly displayed. Also try writing an ‘opened on’ date on milk or juice so that everyone knows how long they have to use them.

Many of us are confident in our ability to judge the safety or quality of our food, but unfortunately our confidence can be misplaced.  While almost two thirds of us say that we use dates to help us, many of us either ignore them or use a number of alternative methods (smell, look and colour) based on habit or trial and error.  When telling whether fish is safe to eat, 70% of us use smell, but only 19% of us use the date.  For foods which have a safety factor such as fish, the ‘Use By’ date is the only reliable way to know if it’s ok to eat. This is because many of the bugs that can make us seriously ill cannot be detected by smell or even taste.

For hints, tips and recipes on how to make the best of the food that we buy and save up to £60 a month, visit