What’s the oldest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Filed in Blog by on September 19, 2011 17 Comments
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Sell By dates to be binned

Sell By dates to be binned

A newspaper headline caught my eye last week as I was paying for fuel.

It was to do with “sell by” and “display until” dates being scrapped in a bid to prevent £12bn worth of food being binned every year.

“Use By” and “Best Before” will stay (although if I had my way the ‘best before’ dates would be axed too, leaving only the absolute necessary for health).

In case you’re still confused, here’s the difference between those pesky labels:

Use By

“Use by” labels are used on foods that could be unsafe to eat after that date such as meat, soft cheese and ready meals. My take is that these dates are great if you are cooking for babies, toddlers, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

Best Before

“Best before” dates show that the product is no longer at its best but is still safe to consume – you’ll see it on everything from tins to packets of biscuits and after that magic date the flavour, texture or colour of the food might begin to change. My take is that you can go ahead and consume my friends; it might not be the most delicious meal, but at least you’re eating it up and saving waste.

What we do

As we’re blessed to be a healthy, robust family we use our senses! Mother Nature saw fit to gift us with some pretty finely tuned senses don’t you think and I think it would be rude not to use them, so here goes with Mrs Green’s biology lesson:


First we look at the food – if it looks ok (no mould, discolouration, furry bits etc) we go onto the touch test.


Here’s where we give it a prod and poke – hard things should be erm, hard and soft things shouldn’t be slimy (especially meat and fish).


Then it’s time to give it a sniff – does it smell fermented, rancid, decaying?


If not then a tentative lick is in order and if all is well the food will be fine and you’ll have saved yourself a few bob in the process…

All this takes me back to the smell of our school hall as I sat crossed legged in awe of the giant ‘green cross code’ man as he had us singing “Stop, look, listen and…. Think!”

I should probably add a disclaimer at this point, but I think I trust you enough to make up your own minds and take responsibility for your own health.

Over on The Guardian, there’s a hilarious blog asking people what the oldest food they’ve ever eaten is.  I thought we were cool with our ‘Eating watercress 5 days past the Use By date” post but Guardian readers are hardcore it would appear with folk tucking into WWII biscuits, 9 year old packets of Smash instant potato and a 12 year old jars of stir-fry sauce.

So tell me, what’s the oldest food you’ve ever eaten and how was it?


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 (17)

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  1. We have a nearly brand new fridge and it keeps food super COLD. So the oldest thing I’ve ever eaten is cream that was over a month past the best by date. I cooked it to make pasta sauce but it smelled and tasted totally fine. We eat all kinds of dairy stuff that is past the dates — if it smells and looks fine, I’m not tossing it out. 😉

  2. “Best before” dates drive me mad! Cheese and yoghurt is already off and loads of products that are supposed to be used within a matter of days have loads of vinegar and salt and other preservatives in.

    Last week I ate a yoghurt that was 2 weeks out of date and a marinade that was 4 years out of date and enjoyed them both will no ill effects 🙂

  3. mieke says:

    About a few years back my mother made me clear out some of her stock of cans and bottles.
    Mostly were quite up to date, but we found two very out of date things;
    One a bottle of 7up drink, it was 4 months past it’s date, I drank all of it, it fiizz(bubbles) was gone, but nothing wrong with that.
    Second was a can of asparages, which was 3 years past it’s date.
    I opened the can, and the stench was very bad, all the asparages were gone to mush. So we didn’t dare to try.
    The kitchen stenched for to days also!

  4. CarSue says:

    Just last week, while visiting a friend, I saw an unopened can of black beans in her trash can. She told me they were 2 years past the expiration date (which meant the can was about 4 or 5 years old) and had gone off while hiding in a cupboard in the cellar. I took the can home, opened it, and everything seemed in order (of course, when things are packaged in that much salt, no wonder they last so long!). I rinsed the beans, added them to a few cups of vegetable broth and sauteed onions with a good dash of hot sauce, and enjoyed LOVELY black bean soup for dinner. Except for the Mr.’s post-dinner “concert,” we suffered no ill effects!

  5. I have a relative who drives me mad by giving me food parcels that consist of old food. This relative thinks nothing of eating seriously off things that would fail Mrs G’s food safety test. I, however, organise what I bring into my house so that I rarely end up wasting any food. I care a lot about waste and its distressing for me to be given something that I have absolutely no use for.

    The last time I was given a food parcel of old food I kept hold of it and sneaked it back to its original owner the next time I visited. Hope she has got the hint by now!!!

  6. m says:

    The only thing I can think of that really needs a “best before” date is yeast. After a while, although it’s quite safe to eat, it won’t be effective. I have phoned manufacturers before to ask questions and had them tell me that with canned foods, they will be fine up to two years after the date stamp.

    And now off to take out the trash 🙁

  7. The oldest thing I have ever consumed was a 25 year old bottle of Rioja (ha ha )and guess what it was not nice at all….guess wine doesn’t always get better with age or maybe it was indeed past it’s date…. On a more serious note, I don’t really look at the sell by date. One quick sniff usually does the trick for us-butter gets that funny smell doesn’t it? I buy a huge block of parmesan every 6 weeks and it does start to get a teeny bit green around the edges in the jar but I just cut or grate the green bits off and it is still delicious. I read that article on sell by dates. I swear sell by dates are just there to make consumers paranoid and buy more. My brother once worked in a factory many summers ago for some extra cash bagging lettuce and other veg in the UK. They had an industrial incident with chlorine-yup, chlorine in the water that is sprayed on the lettuce to keep it fresh. Chlorine levels went too high that day and workers had to be evacuated because of chlorine gas. If you look at all the preservatives in food, it has to last well beyond the sell by date-makes scientific sense. Abolishing the sell by date is very positive. In my granny’s day you knew by sniffing. Are we too posh to sniff these days?

  8. well, the Guardian has already answered for me–WWII crackers and C-Rations of real peanut butter and strawberry preserves…
    i also often receive gifts of old canned goods, 10 years or more; if home canned, i not only check the seal and pssht sound but i also make sure i bring to a boil and keep it there for 3-4 minutes…watch beets and beans for odorless botulism—tomatoes and spinach for acid corrosion, best to boil those before use in casseroles or soups as a precaution.

    i keep cheese in a thick wax paper bag in the fridge to avoid condensation and mold. and lettuces or veges in a vented bag, keeps everything way past due dates or best buys—speaking of best buys–i routinely check the baskets of “near due date/past best date” items around the stores, half price or healthy discounts every time for items i may not afford at high price –it feels like a feast.. but i do believe that the “best by date should go back to where it came from–in marketing departments.

    i donate to birds and compost as a silent offering, if the senses tell me so.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead: Good for you; that must be a super efficient fridge to keep things fresh that long after their dates.

    @Kira Withers-Jones: Yay! you’re hardcore eating things 4 years out of date! I too eat out of date yogurt quite happily.

    @mieke: Ewww, the asparagus sounds horrible! I prefer ‘flat’ drinks, so the can would have suited me LOL!

    @Joddle @ wasteAM: hahahaha! nothing like dropping an obvious hint; hope all those food parcels have stopped now 😉

    @CarSue: Good for you Sue – a free meal can’t be beaten and you saved food from landfill too; glitter and stars for you!

    @m: Oh yes, good call on the yeast. I’m thinking of making a sourdough starter so I won’t need yeast any more. Interesting about the response from manufacturers too; thanks for sharing!

    @zerowastelifestyle: Too posh to sniff – I LOVE that, I think it will become my new mantra. Yep, we’re sniffers over here 😀

    @nadine sellers: thanks for all the advice; I wasn’t aware of beets and beans with botulism and a great tip to keep things boiling for 4 minutes too.

  10. K says:

    Honey that was old 10 years old. I had read if stored properly honey is good for decades if not centuries. I boiled it first and used it in baking with no problems.

  11. Chris Levey says:

    When I worked for Bovril about 45 years ago we found a 26 year old jar of Bovril when opened it was perfectly safe to eat we tested it in the Lab and then ate it.So much for use before dates

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @K: I believe honey has been found in Egyptian tombs, completely safe and edible! 😀

    @Chris Levey: Really? 26 years? That sounds a bit like a whistle blowers story LOL! Thanks for sharing…

  13. Jane says:

    Shame Best Before wasn’t dumped as well. Sometimes I think it is the packaging which doesn’t last. I am always stressing that i is just that… BEST Before and not BAD After! Sadly there are still too many unbelievers.

  14. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: best before would be good to go in my opinion too 😉

  15. Jane says:

    I’ve been away this year a lot and on a visit home I decided to sort out the fridge,,, and the vegetable cupboard. I used up the ends of several packets of cheese and some old potatoes – so old that they were growing roots and sprouts (but weren’t green). I broke all these off and peeled them and made the most delicious gratin dauphinois (technically not quite correct as this was made with cheddar and milk and not cream). We like ours with loads of garlic. I made it a couple of weeks ago. There were two dates on the potatoes a few days apart. 2nd July and 6th July I think. I thought of this post of yours when I made it! We all loved it. It was made with Vivaldi potatoes and I could live on it and because of that only tend to make it occasionally… and the others don’t get it as often as perhaps they’d like…

  16. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: brilliant! I’ve eaten well sprouted potatoes too; they tend to be very soft but are perfect for mash. Well done you!

  17. Jane says:

    @Mrs Green: Yes the whole bag was brown and hairy inside and even I was questioning whether to use or not to use. Those little sprouts you often find were absolutely NOTHING in comparison!
    And the gratin…. mmm…

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