PSA to those of you who throw your food away as soon as it hits the Best Before date: you really, really don't need to. In fact, most of the dates on your food labels are for shops, and not for shoppers (hence 'sell by), and yet, we're still throwing away as much as £346 worth of quality, edible food from each household a year.
New research from Too Good To Go found that 45% of adults are confused about the meaning of Best Before labels. So, to be clear: Use Bys are important, because they refer to actual food safety, where as Best Before rules a little more flexible.
"The truth is that the dates given on Best Before labels are often extremely conservative and that food can have a much longer life than is specified, with no significant drop in quality," Jamie Crummie, Co-Founder of Too Good To Go, said. "The best way to tell if a food is good to eat is to look at it, smell it, taste it and to trust your own judgment.”
You won't ever catch a Best Before on meat or fish because this could be unsafe to eat – these will have a Use By date instead. But the food that you can be a little more flexible with?
Foods you can eat after their Sell By / Best Before date
Bet you're surprised by that one, huh? While the texture and taste of yoghurt may change over time, the acidic nature of the product means bad bacteria are kept at bay almost indefinitely - particularly if the yoghurt is unopened, and has been stored correctly. So if your yoghurt looks, smells and tastes okay, it should be perfectly safe to eat for several weeks past the Best Before date.
You know that kind of white, grainy look chocolate gets when it's been hanging around for a while? It's called bloom, and is caused by the crystallisation of the fat and sugar in the bars. Honestly, it doesn't look great, and it does affect the quality a bit, but it's pretty much safe to eat - it just depends how desperate you are for that bar of Dairy Milk from last Christmas that you just found at the back of the cupboard...
There's a really simple way to tell if your eggs are still okay once the Best Before date has passed - put them into a jug of cold water. If they sink, they're still fresh, if they sit on the bottom but point upwards, they're on the turn but should be alright, and if they float? Get rid of them, asap - the older an egg is, the longer air has been entering the shell and making it buoyant. Oh, and btw, even if the test totally fails you and you end up cracking a bad egg, you'll know about it - they absolutely stink.
Crisps can totally go soft or stale, depending on whether you're a Kettle Crisp or Monster Munch kinda person, but they're also really high in salt, which helps to preserve them well after their Best Before dates. If you've got a half-open packet in the cupboard, seal them up with a plastic clip, and don't sweat it if you finish them a few days after the numbers tell you to.
Similarly, biscuits and crackers that have been left open will lose their crunch, but won't go off for a while - they'll just develop a kind of stale taste. The only risk factor is if some of the oils in the recipe go off, so be sure to give them a good sniff before you dunk them in your tea, and chuck them if they taste even remotely funky.
Got a stash of beans and tinned tomatoes you bought with the intention of cooking up some healthy stews and soups? Yeah, us too, and they've sat there ever since. Apparently, the dates on canned foods are around three years after they hit the shelves, but they're usually alright to use a little while afterwards. As long as they've been kept in a cool, dark area as instructed, you should be safe to use them the next time you're a little skint and/or hungry.
The Best Before on bread is just a guideline - they might not be at their best after this point, but loaves that've gone a bit hard can be eaten without any problems. For stale bread, try sprinkling with water or warming it through in the oven to soften it up - or to extend the life of fresh bread, keep it in a cool, dark place (NOT the fridge, as often recommended; this actually makes it go stale quicker).
Fruit and veg
The freshness of produce should always be on your radar, but if it looks and smells fine (and isn't unreasonably past the Best Before) you should be okay to eat it. If it's on the turn - not mouldy, but just looking a bit sad - you can still whizz it into smoothies or soups or make it into chutney. Taking precautions, but still sick of finding gone-off berries in their punnet? Try these genius hacks to keep your healthy food fresh for longer.
The main rule with pasta is to make sure whatever you're storing it in is airtight - if that's the case, it should last for absolutely yonks because there's no moisture to cause it to expire. So if your penne is a few days 'pasta' its sell by (sorry), there's nothing to stop you boiling it up.
OK so you obviously shouldn't eat cheese - or any dairy, for that matter - that's super out of date and covered in mould, but sturdy cheeses like Cheddar and Parmesan have surprisingly long shelf lives. On the flip side, it's worth noting that you don't want to apply the same policy to soft cheese like Brie and Camembert (or the end of a tub of Philadelphia..), as the more moist a cheese is, the more likely it is to go off when your back is turned.
Honey and jam
Just like crisps are kept relatively fresh by their high levels of salt, preserves are, er… preserved by their high levels of sugar. They won't keep indefinitely, but can definitely be eaten after the Best Before, particularly if they've not even been opened yet. When stored properly, they tend to last for around 6 months - just use your common sense, and don't go eating anything that's furry round the top of the jar.
Mmhmm, the one we've all been waiting for. Alcohol does go off, but it often takes years, and some booze, like wine, actually gets better with age (not when opened, though). When times become desperate at a house party, you should still go careful with anything cream-based or that's been sat in direct sunlight for too long, but with hard spirits like vodka and whiskey, you won't get sick from a few past Best Before shots. Hooray!
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