Why we should keep sell by dates

Why we should keep sell by dates

‘If you can get your hands on foods that are reduced because they are near their sell-by date then you’re getting a real deal’ wrote Lovefood.com’s Alessia Horwich in Ten Supermarket Secrets. Hear, hear, Alessia. But Government guidelines in mid-September recommended scrapping the sell by date in favour of best before and use by I hope this isn’t the end of bargain hunting as I know it.

The only way to shop

Many supermarkets mark down products nearing their sell-by on Mondays, from early afternoon or just before closing time, and that’s when I strike.  Four Duchy Originals beef burgers - down from £2.99 to 99p - was one Waitrose bargain that leapt into my basket. At that price, it would not have been cheaper to make the burgers from scratch.

The best bargains

I only buy discounted products I intend to eat that day or which I can freeze - bread, breakfast goods like muffins, crumpets and croissants, pizzas and meat.  So-called ripe-and-ready fruits like avocados, mangos and pears can be worthwhile, too.  Whatever the display-until tag says, they won’t be ripe for a day or two. If the item – say a pack of grapes – is reduced and also on a two for £4 offer – I get an extra £1 off at the checkout by buying two of them. Try it. 

What not to buy

I’ll walk past reduced salmon fillets, chilled fish pie and prepared salads because they won’t be as fresh as I’d like them. Thirty pence off a ready meal is no bargain either. The aim is at least £1 off like one of my recent coups, a 500g pack of Essential Waitrose skinless diced British turkey thighs down from £2.99 to £1.19.  Great in paella or Phil Vickery’s Turkey Pilau.

Discounted items with a double benefit

Industry experts agree that consumers need more education on the meaning of best before and use by dates. Until they understand that vinegar, sugar and brandy are natural preservatives  - and that chutney, Christmas pud and mincemeat improve on keeping -  I shall continue to bag bargains. That £1.99 jar of Marks & Spencer Luxury Mincemeat I bought last January for 20p tastes delectable even though its best-before date was September 2011.

Any golden rules?

Yes, don’t buy foods you or your family don’t like. That way madness lies. And don’t buy ten of them particularly if you haven’t tried the item before. Freezer and cupboard space has value, too. Have you had some great bargains close to their sell-by date?  We’d love to hear about them.


For more ways to cut your food bills, read these

Price wars. How you can find the best deal

Why you should learn to love your freezer

Ten supermarket secrets