The Weekly Waste Word: Use by the Apocalypse

At the beginning of most weeks, I give tips on how to avoid wasting food. Today we’ll talk about when “best before” or “use by” dates can be ignored. 

My legal team advises me here that I should stipulate that I’m not a trained food scientist. True, but there are times when use-by dates are just silly. This article from an Irish newspaper points out the virtual impossibility of salt going bad, yet that doesn’t stop salt packets from having a “best before” date.

The same article singles out olive oil and pasta as two other long-lasting items that could go in the “use by the apolalypse” category. The author’s advice makes a lot of sense to me:

If we’re to reduce this monumental pile of waste, we’re going to have to use common sense rather than relying slavishly on some arbitrary date. Use your nose, smell the food. If it has any off odours, bin it — even if it hasn’t reached its ‘best before’ date.

Remember that the ‘best before’ date has enormous margins of safety built in, just to be sure that even improperly stored foods will still be edible. If the food is properly stored as per the label you have a good 10 percent extra time to consume it.

That’s what makes this tidbit from an article in the University of Rhode Island student paper all the more ridiculous.

[Dining Services’ Michael] McCullough said that Dining Services keeps leftover food refrigerated for 72 hours. Rhode Island Health Department regulations say that leftover food can be kept for a week, but McCullough said, “We choose to play it safe and go half that time.”

With health department regulations already on the safe side, you could say URI is playing it double safe. Or you could say they’re wasting good food.

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