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20090513

Best Before Best Before Dates

I took the first crop of the year from the rhubarb growing in my garden today. I decided to make a rhubarb crumble for dessert this evening. I had a pack of Green's Crumble Mix in my kitchen cabinet so I thought I would put it to good use. I casually glanced at the "best before" date on the back of the pack: December 2007 - 16 months past its "best before" date - then used it without a second thought.

"Best before" dates are commonly misunderstood and I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to explain the meaning of "best before" to my customers.

Some customers do not pay any attention at all to "best before" dates while others regard "best before" as meaning: "beware, this product will quite suddenly become unfit for human consumption on this date".

It would be interesting to speculate whether those who rigidly follow "best before" dates when buying products, subsequently discard products in their own kitchen cabinets that have passed their "best before" date.

What Does "Best Before" Really Mean?

I researched online with the UK's Food Standards Agency and with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Both these official government bodies agree that "best before" represents the date after which the manufacturer or retailer believes the product MAY BEGIN TO LOSE ITS FLAVOUR OR FRESHNESS.

"Best before" is NOT an "expiry" date. Many (in fact most) products retain their flavour or freshness for weeks, months - and sometimes years - past their "best before" date.

Government Regulations!
I am not aware that any food manufacturer performs any testing to determine what actually happens to its products after the date stamped on the packaging. In most cases, the manufacturer is simply making a wild guess in order to comply with government labelling regulations.

What is the Effect on the Consumer?

Government would, no doubt, tell us that "best before" dates protect the consumer. But like almost anything governments do, the reverse is actually happening. "Best before" results in a huge amount of waste. Vast quantities of perfectly good food are being needlessly sent to the landfill.

Consumers are paying a premium to cover the cost of retailers being forced to discount, or dispose of, food that has passed its "best before" date.

Wouldn't it be better if ...

Wouldn't it be an altogether better idea to mark food with a "made on" date and allow consumers to decide whether the food will still offer the freshness and flavour they expect?

Blighty's "Best Before" Policy

Blighty's Tuck Store marks down the price of every product that has passed its "best before" date by 50% or more. And the cost of that apparent generosity is a component of the price you pay when you buy a fresh product. Thank your government.

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