Has best-by reached its use-by date?

18/04/2011

The delights of oysters are lost on me.

Some food takes several tries before you acquire a taste for it but the strength of my dislike at my first taste of an oyster was such I’ve never bothered to try one again.

When they’re so expensive and those who like them really, really like them it would be stupid to waste them on me.

No oysters are a good oysters to me which means that I am not the best judge of whether or not they’ve have gone off. When I discovered some when cleaning out the fridge in our crib in Wanaka and noticed they’d reached their use-by date I sought the advice of friends who were visiting.

All were sure that the use-by date for oysters should be taken seriously so I threw them out.

When I got home later that day, my farmer who’d left Wanaka before me, asked if I’d found the oysters and brought them with me.

He was less than impressed when I said yes to the first part of the question and explained my no to the second part.

Had it been a best-by date I would almost certainly have ignored it and left it to him to do the look-and-smell-test but I take use-by dates seriously.

The distinction between the two is however, lost on many people:

Economist Richard Denniss, executive director of the Australia Institute, said yesterday its survey of New Zealand households found each threw out about $450-worth of food a year.

This equates to a national figure of about $751 million of food being discarded annually. . .

“Whether it’s because it was off, or people just didn’t like the look of it, we don’t know,” Dr Denniss said.

“We know best-before dates for some people are an indicator that they should be cautious, and for others they are a deadline they wouldn’t possibly cross.”

“Milk and yoghurt don’t become poisonous the day after the best-before date. It’s possible to put your nose in and determine whether they are still okay or not. We found younger people in particular, and also higher-income people, pay more attention to the best-before dates.”

He said shoppers needed more information about the health consequences of food spoilage.

“The consequences of processed meat going off are quite different to the consequences of milk going sour.”

Best-by and use-by dates are relatively new.

We used to use our eyes, noses, tastebuds and judgement to determine whether on not food was safe to eat.

Given the danger and costs of food poisoning, to the sufferer and potentially employers and the health system, use-by dates on food which could cause problems are sensible.

But a produced-on date for other food would leave it up to consumers to use their senses, and sense, to determine if it was safe to eat.

That might save some waste and make it more likely use-by dates were taken seriously.

That would not, however, be enough to convince my farmer that I was right to throw out the ones  he left in Wanaka.


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