Wednesday 21 December 2011

The tyranny of sell-by dates

My daughter regularly phones me to say that she's had a packet of mince/chicken or whatever in her fridge, and it "expired" yesterday, and is it ok to eat it. And I say, give it a good sniff, but it's probably fine. After all, there was a time when there were no such things as sell-by dates. Or, come to that, fridges. My kids love to go through our larder crying "MUM! Have you seen he sell-by date on this!?" (No, probably not. Nor do I care. I seem to have mislaid a treasured tin of anchovies dated 1987.)

But yesterday, having cheese and chutney for lunch, I decided that the sell-by date people may occasionally have a point. The chutney (2007 - one of those pretty little jars of home-made stuff people give you when they come for a meal - was horrible (it had been open for some time), and I discovered that the cheese, which also tasted odd, was thick with mould on the bottom (the bit I couldn't see). And when we once borrowed some (open) horseradish sauce from a neighbour, and found that that too tasted very odd (it was also a nasty grey clour), we discovered tha that had a sell-by date of 1997. (The neighbour is a woman after my own heart, but we threw the sauce away.)

But I do hate waste.


  1. We don't do sell-by or eat-by dates in our house. Our way of going about things is this:
    1. Does it have green hairs or other suspect growths on it? If yes, probably throw it away. (Unless there's only a bit, then scrape it off and proceed to step 2) If no, definitely proceed to step 2.
    2. Does it smell OK? If yes, try it, if no, throw it away.
    3. Does it taste ok? If yes,eat it, if no throw it away.
    None of us has keeled over with food poisoning yet!

  2. In Canada it's a 'best before' date, which also gets applied to people. My youngest son will absolutely not eat anything beyond the date, but then he has no sense of smell. Like you, I'm a lot more cavalier about it, but maybe you'll be a bit more leery now??

  3. Not much chance of that happening here - my fridge is always empty enough to see everything that's in there at a glance, and when I have leftovers from a weekend of cooking, I use them up in a couple of days; they help me to decide what to eat :-)

  4. Only yesterday, my husband volunteered to eat up some cheese that had past its used by date. So far, he's still in good health!

  5. Sniffing is the best way. I don't fret about cutting a bit of mould of cheese, but can't quite bring myself to scrape the fluff off jam. We always buy too much at Christmas and race to eat it up before it goes off. Anyone would think Sainsburys was closing for a week instead of 2 days.

    A very happy Christmas to you and your family Frances.

  6. I am certain use by/sell by dates are to be abolished - but when I can't recall.

    I am well past my sell by date but consider myself quite delicious! Now all I want is a tall dark handsome stranger to think so...

    Merry Christmas Frances!

    Anna :o]

  7. We have a jar of Tiptree jam price printed on the label 45p. It isnt as nice as the modern Tiptree jam which is wonderful ,

  8. I ate a lactose free yoghurt the other day that was 10 days past it's use by date (use by is apparently more important than sell by) and I'm still here to tell the tale!
    I wouldn't give out of date food to children or pets, but I'll give it a go myself, as long as it hasn't grown a fur coat.

  9. Alis - how sensible!

    Deborah - yes. Without a sense of smell things must be complicated.

    Librarian, I'm sure you've posted a photo of the admirably clear interior or your fridge. I shall not be posting a picture of mine.

    Rosemary you have a very sensible husband. If he cares to drop by, we have lots of cheese that might be just up his street. Oh - and biscuits (only slightly soggy).

    Maggie May, the fluff keeps the jam fresh. Trust me. I'an expert. And a happy Christmas to you, too.

    Anna, have a lovely Christmas too. And I'll keep a look-out for tall dark strangers (well, spare ones).

    Jenny, have you tried the 45p jam? You may be missing a treat.

  10. Frances, I have indeed, your memory has not failed you on that:
    But I'll let you in on a secret now... I bought milk some time ago, becaue I needed it for something specific, just not a whole litre, but they only sell the 1-litre-packs at the supermarket where I shop. And guess what - that milk pack is still in my fridge, and I am quite sure it can not be used anymore, so I'm afraid I'll have to pour it down the sink.

  11. I don't worry about sell by dates either - although that's mostly because we always eat everything long before it has a chance to go off.

  12. Not quite on the same (foody) line but still on the subject of 'found this can we use it ...)
    When we closed down the old operating Theatre (and later cleared out the surgery cupboards too) we went through all the old instruments etc, all in sterile containers with their 'use before' dates ...
    Suture Needles attached to silk, in glass containers with preservative fluid ... obsolete by the late 60s
    One or two pieces of ENT kit so old NOBODY knew what they had been used for in the first place
    Glass syringes and their stainless steel needles NEW in their metal cases, seals intact ... 1950s
    Waste? In the NHS? Surely not!
    We've got quite a nice little museum at the surgery now!

  13. I'm laughing about what Librarian said - that was funny. I have to admit I am careful with use by dates. I had a stomach bug many years ago - I think I am still traumatised by it, and that was so NOT fun! Merry Xmas Frances x

  14. Teresa, that's what yoghurt is, isn't it? Bad?

    Make it into cheese, Librarian. You know you want to.

    Patsy, how wise. No little saucers of green fur lurking at the back of the fridge...must be heaven.

    Celia, oh I remember those glass syringes! We had to boil them up after use. Happy days...

    Happy Christmas, Diane!

  15. I always use "expired" yogurt. I even feed it to the dog. Making yogurt is a way of preserving milk so it will last longer. Of course, if there's mould on it, I get rid of it.
    My husband, meanwhile, used to shop for 10 people, and still shops the same way, so we never get to the bottom of our deep-freeze. I can't reach down there, anyway, but I keep telling him any steak that's been there for several years is probably freezer-burned at best, and shoe-leather at worst.
    He'll eat it anyway. So far, he's survived, so he thinks I'm crying wolf.
    Wishing you the very best for Christmas and the new year, Frances.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  16. Your husband and I have a lot in common, Kay. Since my 4 children left home,) I've continued cooking for six, because the boys had huge appetites, and I hated to disappoint them. However hard I try, I can't get out of the habit. So we eat an awful lot of leftovers.

    Have a wonderful Christmas yourself!