Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Simple Suggestion #153... Be something of a 'best before' date skeptic

'Best before' dates are in the news here lately. I guess a lady in Leduc picked up some lobster paté at a Walmart and didn't look at the date on the can. She took it home, spread it on some crackers, and ate it, not realizing that it had been in its tin since long before July, 2011. Yikes!

I'm guessing all the local grocery stores are checking their inventory this week and tossing out stuff that's really old. But being a bit of a 'best before' date skeptic who hates to see anything wasted, I just hope they aren't taking those little dates TOO SERIOUSLY.

Even before the story about the lobster paté broke earlier in the week, I was thinking a lot about product expiry dating, and how much wastage it can cause. Back in January, Joel Salatin, organic farmer extraordinaire came to town, and he got me thinking. Michael at Earth's General Store asked Joel to speak to interested friends of EGS about his efforts to grow good organic food of all types at Polyface Farm, and provide some food security in his region of Virginia. He said many interesting things, but this really struck me:
The world, for all of our technology and refrigeration and plastic bags and vacuum-sealing and transportation and all of that, has never thrown away more human edible food than we do right now, today. Planet wide, we are losing roughly 50% of all the human edible food in all the world.... We have, in the developed world, incredible snootiness about what is edible...
He went on to comment about our refusal to eat fruit that has slight bruises, our anxiety and paranoia that our food might harbour dangerous bacteria, and the fact that if we weren't such picky human eaters who equate "safe" with "sterile" we could feed the world's population twice over. (We have more bacteria on and in our bodies than there is in most foods!)

So this week, I'm thinking about those 'best before' dates, and I've done a little research that has made it clear that when a 'best before' date has passed, most food isn't 'bad' yet -- it's just not at its optimum freshness -- which makes me sorry for the times I threw out salad dressings in particular, thinking they had expired, when really, they just weren't at their 'best.' So now, while I definitely wouldn't eat a can of lobster paté from 2011, I don't worry so much about foods that might be a week or two beyond their 'best before' -- like yogurt, milk, or cottage cheese (unless it smells sour). And can a bottled vinaigrette really go bad with all that vinegar in it? Vinegar is a preservative, isn't it?

So the next time you notice a 'best before' date that's passed you by, think about the possibilities. Is it a food that's not likely to harbour dangerous microorganisms? Can it be salvaged in some way? If not, can it be composted?

Just a little food for thought.

And if you've never heard of Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farms, here's a little teaser...

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

1 comment:

  1. I just ate a yogurt that was best before 2 weeks ago and it tasted great!
    My dad used to represent the UK at the Butter Marketing Board in the EC and he told me the best before dates on things like butter were just made up to sell more butter :)
    I've started baking more, and notice soured milk seems to be a regular ingredient in lots of breads and muffins. To think of all the milk we've poured away when it went sour over the years, when I could have baked with it !


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