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Monday 2 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
groceries via Shutterstock
# best before
Would you shop in a store for expired food?
A pilot project in the States wants to convert fruit and veg just past their ‘best before’ date into healthy and cheap takeaways. Would that work here?

DO YOU KNOW the difference between ‘sell by’, ‘enjoy by’ and ‘best before’?

Those particular food labelling terms are of the hair-splitting variety but can often lead to perfectly safe foodstuffs being thrown away because of consumer confusion. Last year, the Cut Food Waste campaign here found that around a third of consumers surveyed believed that ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ were the same thing.

(They’re not – as Dr Gary Kearney of safefood said: “Our advice is to treat ‘best before’ dates as a guideline and ‘use by’ dates as a deadline.”)

What if we were to get really organised about making sure perishables are not thrown out as unusuable before they were actually… perished?

This week, the Boston Globe reported on a new venture from retail grocer expert Doug Rauch which could be controversial within his sector of the food industry. Rauch, who was once president of grocery chain Trader Joe’s in the States, is launching a new type of supermarket in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The shop will sell inexpensive meals made from raw ingredients that would – in conventional supermarkets – be thrown out because they are past that ‘best before’ guideline mentioned by Dr Kearney above.

The idea behind the Urban Food Initiative, as Rauch calls it and which he hopes will spread across the States, is to tackle unnecessary food waste. The perishables, which are just near or just past their expiration date, would normally be thrown out daily by supermarkets but Rauch reckons they can be made into low-fat high-nutrient packaged meals like soups, stews and casseroles and sold at the price it would normally cost people to buy a cheap takeaway like McDonalds.

According to the Globe report, Catherine D’Amato, president of the Greater Boston Food Bank, welcomes the idea, saying:

“It’s an intriguing idea and it’s interesting to see entrepreneurs who have traditionally worked in the profit side looking at the nonprofit side to create models for food sustainability.

Research from the US Department of Agriculture found that more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated in 2011, 96 per cent of which ended up in landfills or incinerators. Figures published here earlier this year show that the average Irish household wastes around €700 a year in foodstuffs.

According to Irish and EU legislation, it is not illegal for food products to be sold if they are beyond their ‘best before’ date – although there should be a note clearly displayed to advise consumers that this is the case. It is illegal for retailers to sell foods that are past their use-by date.

What do you think of Rauch’s concept for his past-’best before’ dates food sales?

Would you be happy to buy ready meals prepared from such ingredients?

Poll Results:

No (1782)
Depends on the foodstuff (1166)
Yes (1031)

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