What's the oldest thing in your food cupboard?

Shopping basket

A major retailer has announced it will be the first to sell food after its "best before" date. But for many people, eating an item a few days - or even years - out of date is nothing new.

For Brian Boyes, who lives in Pau in France, age is no barrier to enjoying food or drink, that has been languishing in the store cupboard - even an 18-year-old bottle of Ribena.

"It was perfectly alright," he insists, noting that the bottle was made of glass and the seal had not been broken. He said he suffered no side effects.

Every year, the UK wastes 15m tonnes of food, with close to half of this going straight from our cupboards to our bins.

East of England Co-op, which is independent of the Co-operative Group, is the first major retailer to start selling food after the "best before" date.

Dan Cluderay is the founder of Approved Food, an online discount food retailer based in Sheffield. He says the Co-op's action is "a great step" towards tackling waste in the UK.

According to the NHS, "best before" dates are more to do with the taste and texture of food than its safety.

The Food Standards Agency echoes the advice given by the NHS, saying "best before" food is safe to eat but may lack the expected taste.

So what do people think of this change in the food market?

Image caption Diana plans her meals around reduced-price foods

Diana Catton, from Lincoln, goes straight to the reduced-price counter when she is shopping and plans her meals around it. Having a low income means she has to budget carefully.

"Depending on the item, I may even eat things which are a couple of days past their use by date, particularly hard cheese and vegetables such as potatoes and other root vegetables," she said.

"I also use my common sense by looking at and smelling the item. For a large part of my younger life I did not have access to a fridge, and there were no use by dates on food, so this was normal behaviour. As far as best by dates are concerned, I routinely ignore them.

"If a tin has blown or is dented I discard it, and if I can see evidence of spoilage in other dried goods I bin them."

Image caption Brendan Hunter ate 12-year-old rice pudding

While clearing out the cupboards at his mother-in-law's home, Brendan Hunter found tins of rice pudding dating back to 2005. Brendan, who lives in Banbury, Oxfordshire, said he happily tucked in. They "tasted great", he said.

'Use by' Vs 'best before'

Best before

  • "Best before" dates are about quality, not safety.
  • When the date has passed, it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture.
  • The "best before" date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label.

Use By

  • "Use by" dates are the most important date to consider, as these relate to food safety.
  • "Use by" dates are found on food that goes off quickly, such as smoked fish, meat products and ready-prepared salads.
  • Don't use any food or drink after the end of the "use by" date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine.
  • For the "use by" date to be a valid guide, you must follow storage instructions.
  • Once a food with a "use by" date on it has been opened, you also need to follow any instructions such as "eat within three days of opening".
  • If the "use by" date is tomorrow, then you must use the food by the end of tomorrow, even if the label says "eat within a week of opening".

source: NMS

Image caption Sam says crisps don't taste as good after the 'best before' date

Sam, from Sussex, had treacle from 2013 which clearly stated "dispose of on expiry".

He told us processed items such as crisps did not taste great after the "best before" date but could still be used, adding: "The amount people waste is insane. A potato can last a month after purchase quite happily, and will sprout, go soggy or brown if not.

"I have intentionally bought end-of-life mincemeat reduced, topped it with brandy and stuck it back in the cupboard till the following year - it's tastes better!"

For Derek Brown, from Sutton, as long as food looks and smells OK he is happy to eat it. He thinks items with an expired "best before" date are healthy and can help build up the immune system.

He said: "I buy food on the best before date and put it in the freezer.

"I eat margarine months after the best before date after keeping it in the fridge.

"I honestly believe it is safe indeed healthy to consume bacteria which can help build up the body's defences."

Judith Beatty, from Twickenham, says her late father who lived until the age of 98, was told he had food past the expiry date in his fridge. She said: "He replied that when serving during World War Two he was issued with tins of bully beef stamped 'WW1' and it hadn't done him any harm."

Image caption Sophie removes the mould from bread before eating

Sophie Ukaoma, a 25-year-old mother and student of biomedicine, says she has no problem buying food past its sell by date. She says she often cuts out the mould in bread and eats the rest. Pasta, potatoes and seasonings are also among the list of items she is happy to use.

She said: "My mother-in-law bought me chilli powder and seasonings from Nigeria seven months ago, I still use them regularly."

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