Use by dates – my a***!

Filed in Blog by on November 30, 2009 13 Comments
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Mr Green risking his life to bring you groundbreaking news

Mr Green risking his life to bring you ground breaking news

I wrote this post on 11th October; you need to remember that because it adds to the excitement of the plot.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, eco warrior kids and furry zero waste pets, I bring you news of a huge conspiracy that is costing each of us around Β£600 a year.

I bring news of a terrifying experiment my brave husband did this week in order to prove a point and to do his bit for the environment.

My own husband, risked his life in front of my very eyes, to educate you, me, your friends, family, colleagues and fellow salad eaters.

This intrepid warrior, fuelled by his own passion for making a difference in the world took his life into his hands and risked everything to bring this ground breaking story.

On 11th October 2009, he made history by eating some watercress and surviving!

This wasn’t any ordinary watercress.

Against all the advise given by the Food standards Agency, Mr Green ate his greens 5 days later than the “Use Before” date. If you can see the photo clearly, you’ll see a Use by date of 6th Oct along with perfect looking watercress from

Use by 6th Oct, eaten on 11th Oct

Use by 6th Oct, eaten on 11th Oct

the pack on his plate.

The Love Food Hate Waste campaign state the Use By date is the “key date in terms of safety”. Consumers are advised to “never eat products after this date.”

But would Mr Green listen?

The Food standards agency say “Don’t use any food or drink after the end of the ‘use by’ date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine. This is because using it after this date could put your health at risk“.

“Pah!” said the fearless Mr Green, stuffing his mouth with his salad leaf of choice.

The Food Standards Agency also say “A use by rather than a best before date should be used on those prepacked foods ‘which, from the microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health‘.

I’m pleased to say that our gallant hero is still looking and smelling great to me without a twinge of wilting around the edges. Our reckless Knight in shining armour has lived to tell the tale.

Now my disclaimer says you should ‘not try this at home‘ (but if you have done, we’d love to hear about it!)

I’d love to know what you think about ‘use by’ dates.

Do you adhere to them for health and safety reasons?
Do you think they are a good idea and help protect us?
Do you think there are fewer cases of food poisoning now that we have ‘Use by’ dates on our food?
Or do you think they encourage us to waste edible food?
Do you prefer to use your own senses of sight, smell and taste?
Do you think they are deliberately used to make us buy more and ultimately put more profit in food manufacturers pockets?

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (13)

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  1. I never bother with use by dates/best before dates.

    Fresh stuff in our house never lasts that long.

    All raw meat and fish products are frozen as soon as they come home unless being cooked that day, this also goes for bread, milk and cheese, so the dates on the packaging mean nothing.

    I look at it this way, our grandmothers/greatgrandmothers never had access to fridges and freezers and still managed perfectly well with fresh foods, so why can’t we.

  2. Poppy says:

    lol Mr and Mrs G! I don’t take any notice of dates on food! I recently ate a yoghurt that was over a month past its use/sell by date and I’m here to tell the tale.

    I had a small battle with a school dinner lady who stopped Master P from having his usual fromage frais at lunchtime because it was out of date. These are the tube style offerings (yes I know! …not very zero waste … sorry πŸ™ ) and always go straight in the freezer and only come out to be added to his lunchbox. Master P knew this and tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen. I stuck a big note in his box the next day to tell her and any other jobsworth, that actually, I wasn’t trying to poison my child and the food was perfectly good to eat!!

  3. LOL, I use the scratch & sniff test. If it smells okay then normally we’ll use it. Haven’t suffered from it yet πŸ˜€

  4. I’m very careful with meat and always make sure to freeze it before the date (well if it’s one day after I smell it and look at it and still use it lol) but for everything else I just check for mold and smell it and feel it.

    Now highly processed food is less safe for this because they put things in it to make sure it doesn’t mold or rot but if it’s real food it will rot or mold when it’s bad. πŸ™‚

  5. Sharon says:

    I have never understood why so many people pay so much attention to the dates on food. Does a packet of bacon go off at midnight at the end of its use by date? Of course not!
    I happily eat all sorts of things which are past their date; as long as you have stored the goods correctly, cook them appropriately and they don’t smell or look funny, chances are they are fine.
    (My husband on the other hand is a little more cautious. Do you think it is bad that I feed him out of date stuff without letting him know??)

  6. I definitely follow my nose with food freshness. I’ve had things go off well before their date and eaten food weeks after it’s date and never experienced food poisoning. I don’t eat meat so it’s probably easier for me to be cavalier about it. I’m sure many people don’t realise the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates so it comes as no surprise that so many people are ditching perfectly good food unnecessarily. I’ve started buying things in smaller quantities after realising the false economy of bulk buying fresh goods and it definitely saves us money and ensures we’re eating fresher ingredients.

  7. Im amazed how many people actually throw away food just because of the date. Its just plain waste if you ask me.
    First of all, 50% of the food I buy is marked down because the sell by date is soon. I either eat it or freeze it for later. This saves me so much money. I would not be able to afford lunch meat or yogurt if I didnt shop this way. Feeding a family of 6 is expensive so I have to cut corners any way I can.
    I also do the smell test. If it smells good and looks fine, its eaten.

    I think its just a way for companies to get your money. They are banking on you by throwing it out and buying more.
    Wise up people.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie dalziel: I think about our grandparents too, Maisie. I guess the only difference might be that they would have done daily shopping, but apart from that, they had to rely on their senses.

    @Poppy: Poppy, the dinner lady episode leaves me a bit speechless. I guess they are looking out for the kids, (and what was she doing looking so closely to have seen the date??!!) but perhaps a call to you would have been in order rather than depriving Master P of his lunch..

    @Almost Mrs Average: Scratch ‘n’sniff test – yep, that about sums it up!

    @Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green: Lisa, good point about processed foods. I remember seeing a photo, I think it was on Beths, Fake plastic fish site of a McDonalds that had been kept for YEARS and still looked like it did when ‘fresh’ – it was so highly preserved nothing happened to it. Whether it was a hoax or not I don’t know, but clearly processed food has enabled us to be more blase about things.

    @Sharon: πŸ˜€ love the midnight bacon thing LOL! And no, I feed ‘out of date’ food to my two without them knowing, so I don’t think you’re bad πŸ˜‰

    @nic @ nipitinthebud: Nic, like you we’ve had things go off before their best before date and other things, like the watercress last for ages. Interesting you’ve gone back to buying in small quantities.

    @surviving and thriving on pennies: Hi there! Welcome to the site and thanks for leaving a comment. I saw a programme where a chef went into a family’s home, took all the food they had ‘thrown away’ because of dates and created 14 healthy and delicious meals from it. It was incredible and I reckon that goes on millions of times across the world every day.

  9. LJayne says:

    We’re careful because our smallest is only 15 months but, in general, we go by what we think of the food. Like someone else said, we freeze a lot when it arrives and so lots of stuff in our fridge, if in its original packaging, will have terrible dates!

    I saw a programme where a journalist decided to eat out of date food for a fortnight. One day 1 it was something one day out of code, on day 2, 2 days and so on. So by the end of the fortnight, something 14 days old! Along the way he did things like scraping mould off bread and toasting it. Eating out of date chicken :-0 At the end he saw a nutritionist and doctor and he was fine. They advised that people with immune issues should be extremely careful but, for most of us, it would be OK if we knew the rules about food.

    Although, I do have to say, my friend’s 6 year old dd got salmonella from an egg last year and had upset digestion for about 3 weeks. C was using eggs the way she always has and no-one else was poorly.

    My DH loves to ignore dates. He’ll happily scrape mould off cheese, eat out of code yogurt and the like. I’m not quite that blase! But I do think we’ve lost the art of connecting with food. I bought some lamb from the butchers the other week instead of the supermarket and it reminded me how raw meat really smells. And so many people just don’t know that. Chicken smells disgusting when it is going off, but other meats can smell “meaty” when they are fine. We’ve just forgotten what that smell is.

  10. Sandie says:

    “If in doubt, use your snout”

    Forget the dates. Does it smell okay?

    We have never had any kind of food related sickeness and don’t adhere to the sell by dates…………

    We’ve eaten yoghurt three months past its sell by date with no ill effects.

    It has to be a personal decision and I guess if you have serious health issues you should be careful. But sell by dates should probably be used as a guide only.

  11. You may have seen it on Beth’s site but it’s another one of the Green Moms Carnival moms that owns that lovely burger. Karen from Best of Mother Earth. Here is the blog if anyone wants to see it-
    http://www.bestwellnessconsultant.com/2008/09/23/1996-mcdonalds-hamburger-karen-hanrahan-best-of-mother-earth.aspx

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @LJayne: Hi Lesley, you make some interesting point and the programme you saw sounds fascinating. I’m not sure I would risk meat, but then I’ve probably forgotten how to eat it safely because I haven’t eaten it for 20 years. I would certainly (and do!) scrape mould off bread and cheese and eat out of date yogurts. I understand you not wanting to take a risk with a 15 month old πŸ™‚

    @Sandie: πŸ˜€ I like your little mantras there Sandie! I would agree that use by dates can be used as a guide and that anyone with compromised immune system should be more wary.

    @Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green: Ah that’s it – thanks Lisa!

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