My wife throws away perfectly good food when they reach the expiration date stamped on the package - as if they know that - ding! - it's time to go bad.
Jonathan Maitland of the Daily Mail has a similar problem with his wife, so he decided to embark on a two-week experiment of eating increasingly out-of-date supermarket food in attempt to discover the truth about use-by and best-before dates:
One Asda 'smart price' Chicken Breast Fillet. My wife, realising the meat was six days past its Use-By date, reacted like a vampire seeing a crucifix. I devoured it. Granted, it lacked a little tenderness, but that may have been because I had roasted the living daylights out of it. Ill-effects: none.
Cooking, or the lack of it, is crucial in all this. Microbiologist Doctor Lee Humpheson, who runs a food-testing laboratory, says: 'There is a 100 per cent greater risk from food that hasn't been cooked or prepared properly, even if it is really fresh, than from food which is past its Use-By date, but which has been cooked and prepared properly.'
In other words, wash your hands when handling food, don't use the raw meat knife to spread butter and follow cooking instructions to a 'T'. Then, even though your sausages are, say, three days out of date, you will be fine.
Expiry dates are there for a reason, but, according to Dr David Jukes, a senior lecturer in Food Bioscience at Reading University: 'The longer you leave food after its Use-By date has expired, the more its bacteria will multiply, posing a greater risk to your health.'
But how do manufacturers decide on an expiry date in the first place?
When new products come on the market, tests are run to see at what stage bacteria in the food become harmful. More tests are then carried out, taking into account the effect of variables such as packaging, transportation and storage temperatures.
Dr Jukes says many supermarkets will err on the side of caution when deciding on an expiry date. 'Inevitably, the food industry plays safe. Use-By dates have a degree of safety built in, in order to protect the industry.' So how great is that degree of safety? Quite big, if my experience is anything to go by.
Link (Photo: Les Wilson/ITV)