Grocery giants shelve UK move
A British chain plans to sell old food very cheaply. Rachel Clayton reports on the New Zealand reaction.
If you are throwing out milk or eggs after the best-before date, you might be wasting food and money.
A supermarket chain in Britain will be the first major supermarket to sell old food for drastically low prices.
East of England Co-op’s 125 stores will sell food beyond its bestbefore dates, including dried foods and tinned products, for just 10 pence (20 cents) in an attempt to cut food waste.
In New Zealand, Reduced to Clear stores sell food, beauty, and household products that are near or past their best-before date.
Some savings include Kellogg’s All Bran Original 350g for $2.99, compared with the recommended retail price (RRP) of $4.99, and Golden Hills Manuka Honey UMF 5+ 250g for $12.99 (RRP $26.99).
But New Zealand’s two biggest supermarket companies were not planning to follow suit.
A Countdown spokesman said the supermarkets worked under a food safety programme that was approved by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
The scheme included not selling food past its best-before or use-by date except on rare occasions.
Food that was past its best but still suitable to be eaten was donated to food rescue groups by all Countdown stores, he said.
Foodstuffs spokeswoman Antoinette Laird said New World and Pak’n Save supermarkets aim not to have a lot of short-dated product in stock and don’t regularly sell expired foods.
‘‘Health and safety is definitely a priority for the business – we certainly don’t want to put customers at risk,’’ she said.
An MPI spokesman said bestbefore dates were about quality and use-by dates were about food safety.
‘‘It is legal to sell food that is beyond its best-before date; however, we would expect businesses to inform their customers if they chose to sell food beyond its bestbefore date,’’ he said. ‘‘Food past its use-by date is potentially unsafe, and is illegal to sell.’’
Otago University food science lecturer Biniam Kebede said many foods were safe to eat after the best-before date.
‘‘The date is mainly based on food quality and not food safety. If you take canned products like fish it can be stored for a very long time, but after some time the colour starts to change or texture changes, so the quality is the shelf life of the product.’’
He said food companies were careful with shelf life dates to protect their brand.
Massey University food safety professor Steve Flint said consumers had been confused about best-before and use-by dates for years.
‘‘’Use by’ is based on food safety issues where food companies have tested a product and know it is safe up until then,’’ he said.
Cheese could be eaten past the best-before date, he said, and mould was not a food safety issue.
‘‘Eggs in New Zealand are pretty safe – we don’t have the same salmonella issues like other regions around the world.
‘‘It’s hard to tell how long it takes for eggs to spoil – it depends on where they are stored. If they are washed it removes a bacterial protective barrier.’’
The Love Food Hate Waste website says eggs are safe to eat after their best-before date but they need to be kept cool.
It recommends doing the float test to check if an egg is fresh: Place an egg in a bowl of water and if it floats it shouldn’t be eaten.
Going by smell, site and taste was a much better way to tell if a food should be eaten, Flint said.
‘‘The dates are not so much of a concern – it’s more how the food is treated by the consumer.’’
Food scientists say eggs are safe to eat beyond the bestbefore date; above, all Countdown stores donate food that has passed its best.