[from the Guardian, a letter that I fully agree with]
I write as a retired food technologist who spent many years working in the food industry. Joanna Blythman’s article (Food labels have passed their sell-by date, 5 November) is the first sensible article on this subject that I have ever seen in the media.
The legislation which at first insisted that food had a “sell by” date started as a very laudable way of ensuring that retailers could not pass off old food as fresh. Enforcement agents (environmental health officers) could easily initiate prosecutions against cheats. However, more detailed good intentions soon led to “mission creep”, and with the introduction of “use by” and “best before” dates turned also into guidance to food consumers as to how to control the contents of their larders.
At that point, people ignorant of the nature of food preservation were soon throwing away perfectly good food. For example, cheddar cheese only improves with age, but like all food it has to have at least a “best before” date. And yoghurt is fundamentally a safe food due to its acidity, yet someone doing risk analysis has decided it is possible for mould to grow on it – and some moulds develop toxins, and so it must have a “use by” date; yet most yoghurt is perfectly safe to eat months after being out of date, and if it has got a mould growing on it, only the most desperately hungry would eat it because it would both look and taste horrible. As a result of the coding, though, out-of-date yoghurt is likely to be thrown away completely unnecessarily.
Holme-on-Spalding-Moor, East Riding of Yorkshire