Time to ignore sell-by dates
I hate it when food is wasted.
When my children were younger and fussier – before they started to eat me out of house, home and positive bank balance – I used to polish off my own meal, then turn my attention to the scraps left on their plates.
And, regardless of how much food is put in front of me, I always eat every last bit – to the point of licking the plate if there’s a nice sauce or gravy.
I am also the self-appointed "bin inspector", regularly checking the rubbish to ensure that nothing even vaguely edible has been dumped. I’ve been known to fish out an apple or an orange and put it back in the fruit bowl, so be very careful what you accept when offered food at my house.
Over-zealous habits aside, food waste is a very serious issue.
Apparently 1.3 million unopened yoghurt pots are dumped every day, along with 440,000 ready meals, 5,500 whole chickens (hopefully not still clucking), 4.4 million apples, 5.1 million potatoes and 1.6 million bananas. Bananas.
We, the great British public, throw out up to a quarter of our weekly food and drink purchases, costing the average family – as if that exists – £680 per year.
Much of the blame for that lies with our increasing obsession with sell-by dates.
If a yoghurt or a ready meal is one day beyond its sell-by date, too many people assume that it is carrying salmonella or E. coli and is as hot to handle as radioactive rock.
In a bid to cut the five million tons of food that we throw out each year, the government is now looking at axing sell-by and display-until stickers.
Only use-by dates would be kept, which give a much better indication of food safety, but should still be taken with a pinch of salt.
With the exception of some foods, including fish, prawns and eggs, which can genuinely make us ill if they lurk too long in the fridge, it is a very good idea.
And it could herald a long-overdue return to the days of common-sense kitchen husbandry.
The approach is simple, and has been tried and tested by generations of wise mothers, who managed to keep their kitchens organised and salmonella at bay long before sell-by dates muddied the washing up waters.
If you’ve got a jar of jam of uncertain vintage in the cupboard, take off the lid and check for mould. Then scrape off the mould and eat the jam.
If your bread is going a bit blue and stiff along the crust, cut off the crust, pop it in the toaster and get it down your neck.
Brown bananas? They taste sweet, so eat. Bruised apples? Cut off the bruise and devour it. After all, why should the entire apple be punished for one blemish.
As for milk, if it smells of sweaty feet or stilton, it’s probably not going to taste too nice on your morning cornflakes.
I’d dare to suggest that if all households introduced this simple regime, far less food would go to waste.
This doesn’t solve one other problem, though. In recent years the supermarkets have triggered an obsession with fruit and vegetables that look perfect – of a regulation size, without knobbly bits or characterful shapes.
It has fed the modern attitude that what we eat must first be pleasing on the eye – regardless of how little flavour these cloned foodstuffs actually have.
In the same way that a retired fisherman with a weathered face has an added piquancy to his stories, a bumpy apple or a pitted potato often has so much more to give to the palate.
posted on 19 April 2011 08:14 bySteve Downes