The amount of food we throw away every year in the UK is truly shocking. 7.2 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year, and most of what we throw away is perfectly safe to eat. This is roughly equivalent to six meals per family per week. Many of us throw away food because we go by the little dates printed on the food by the manufacturer, and this is where the confusion starts.
Use by dates should be adhered to, as these are put on short life products which go “off” quickly, such as dairy products or meat. Use these products before their “use by” date, or in the case of meat, freeze it to use later. Best before dates mean just that; a product is best before the date stated, but eating it afterwards isn’t going to be necessarily dangerous to your health.
Anything which is preserved in vinegar such as pickled onions, chutneys and gherkins have a very long lifespan. The vinegar stops any bacteria growing in the pickling solution and therefore pickles can be safely eaten long after the best before date on the jar.
Use common sense though, and if you see furry mould growing on your jar of chutney, throw it in the bin.
Jam and Honey
Sugar is also an excellent way of preserving food and sugar has been used for centuries to keep food good for longer. Just think about the number of people who have kept the top tier of their wedding cake for a baptism several years down the line and haven’t died of food poisoning. Jam, marmalade, honey and sweets like fudge and toffee will be safe past their best before date in most cases.
Modern crisps, tortilla chips and other snacks are sold in airtight packets and are very unlikely to cause you any problems, even if you eat them months after their best before date has passed. If you open the packet to discover they have gone a little soft, pop them into a warm oven with a sprinkle of oil for a few minutes and they will soon crisp up again.
Fruit and Vegetables
Fresh fruit and veg are one of the most commonly thrown away items, because we get tempted by the “buy one get one free” deals and before you know it, there are three bags of apples which have passed their best before date.
It is very easy to spot if fruit and veg has gone past its best. Fruit which is soft, squidgy and rotten is probably not nice to eat, but can be used to cook cakes or in a pudding. Shrivelled up carrots or sprouting potatoes should be binned too, but use your common sense and your eyes when deciding when to bin fruit and vegetables rather than the best before dates.
Take a look at the cans of soup, vegetables or beans in your cupboard and you’ll see that many have a best before date several months or even years ahead. The canning process removes bacteria and keeps the food in a sterile environment, and that can of tomatoes which has been languishing in the back of the cupboard several months past its best before date will be fine to use in your spaghetti Bolognese.
Most of us would immediately dispose of eggs which are past their best before date, but there is a simple test which is a more accurate guideline. Fresh eggs sink, eggs which are past their best float. Even the “floaty” eggs can be used to make things like cakes if they look and smell all right when you crack them; the key is to make sure that eggs past their best before date are cooked thoroughly.
32% of bread bought in the UK is not eaten, but is thrown away. Best before dates on bread are just a guide and if there is no mould, it is safe to eat. If it has gone a little stale, use it to make breadcrumbs which you can freeze to use later, make a bread and butter pudding, or cube it to make some croutons for your soup.