What’s the label trying to tell you?
Have you noticed a change to the packaging on the food you buy every week? A change in the date labels maybe, or an added recipe tip?
Food retailers and manufacturers are always reviewing the guidance on their packaging and how they package things, to help ensure the food it as its best for longer – after all, if it tastes good, we might buy more of it!
So, take a closer look at the packaging on your food and see what you can find…
On some products you can find up to 4 different dates – display until, sell by, best before and use by – but over the last year the number of dates has been greatly reduced. A new report suggests that less than a third of all products now have a display until date. We didn’t need that anyway, it was only there for the retailers!
There’s also the confusion between a use by date and a best before date. Have you ever been unsure whether you could eat cheddar cheese after the date on the pack? Perhaps this is because until last year, a quarter of packs carried a ‘use by’ date with the rest carrying a ‘best before’ date. How confusing! Now things are much simpler with almost all (97%) packs carrying a ‘best before’ date. That means it’s safe to eat after the date, but might not be at its best in terms of quality.
Innocent orange juice also used to have a ‘use by’ date on their packs, but now have a ‘best before’ date. £80 million of fruit juices and smoothies are thrown away every year because they’re ‘not used in time’, so the new labelling tells innocent’s customers that they can drink the product quite safely after the date on the label.
Another clever idea for date labels – Sainsbury’s have made the date labels much larger, so they are easy to read.
To clear up the confusion here is what the important date labels mean:
This is the really important one, as it relates to safety – we should never eat food past the end of its ‘use by’. However, if a food can be frozen, its life can be extended – freeze it on or before the ‘use by’ date. Take a look in your cupboards and fridge regularly and eat, cook or freeze your food before its ‘use by’. Doing this means you don’t end up throwing it away.
‘Best before’ dates show how long the food will be at its best quality – it doesn’t refer to safety. Using food after the ‘best before’ means that it will just not be at its best in terms of quality, but you might not even be able to taste the difference. The exception to this rule is eggs – providing the eggs are cooked thoroughly, they can be eaten a day or two after their ‘best before’ date, but not longer than this.
Most products in packaging have storage guidance printed on the packet. Storing food in the right way helps keep it fresh and tasty for longer and means less of the food we buy goes off and gets thrown away. Most packs now have storage information on the front of the pack, rather than the back, making it even easier to spot.
Use your fridge
Most fruit keeps longer in the fridge. Loosely wrapped apples can last an extra 2 weeks in the fridge rather than the fruit bowl. If you don’t like cold fruit take it out the night before if you’re taking them in your lunch box.
There are some things that don’t like the fridge though – bananas and pineapple go brown quickly in the fridge, so leave them out. Bread goes stale more quickly too – try freezing half a loaf and toast from frozen, then leave the rest in the bread bin for sandwiches.
Use your freezer
You can freeze food on the ‘use by’ date even if it’s been in the fridge for the last week. When you cook extra, measure the leftovers into portions and freeze to eat as a ready meal on another day.
Many of us struggle when it comes to working out whether it’s still safe to eat the pizza we bought last week or whether the eggs in the fridge have taken a turn for the worst. We throw away around 3 million tonnes of food and drink every year before we even got round to cooking or serving it: partly down to our confusion over date labels and storage guidance.
The labels on a lot of tins and jars include a recipe idea. If you’re bored of the same meal why not give the recipe a try? – it’s just like looking in a recipe book. You could send your own recipe suggestions to the manufacturers of the food you buy, most big brands have websites and give you an address on the packet – you never know, your recipe could end up on the packet!