Teaching Food Safety

Shopping with children is always an education. They are curiosity in motion and never stop asking questions. As adults, we like to think we have all the answers. We don’t.

Whilst trundling down the chilly aisles of our local supermarket the other day I had to use all my ‘Dad powers’ and think on my feet. My sprog picked out her favourite salami pizza and I told her to ‘just check the date on it’. Her reply, “Use by……today! It’s today’s date! If I eat this tomorrow does that mean I’ll die?!” My reply, “Look it’s reduced, just get it and we’ll be fine so long as we eat it before midnight!” Great work Dad, not.

Of course things didn’t end there. Sprog then examined all the dates on every piece of packaged ham before choosing one that ‘would be safe’. When we got to the fruit and veg a packet of blueberries had the label ‘Display until’ on it and believe me that really didn’t help matters; soon discussions moved onto ‘use-by’, ‘sell-by’, ‘best-by’ and ‘eat by’ and by the end of our shop I was in desperate need of an espresso and some thinking space.

What this illustrates of course is the whole confusion over food labelling and why children haven’t got a chance especially when their parents don’t know either and are only interested in saving money.  Here’s the low-down just so we can avoid scenes in supermarkets:

The Use-By label is about safety and is aimed at consumers as a directive of the date by which the product should be eaten. Foods can be eaten up until the use by date (and most can be frozen) but not after. Food can look and smell fine after its use by date but it could still be contaminated as you cannot see, smell or taste bugs that cause food poisoning.

The Sell-By or Display Until label is aimed not at consumers but retailers and tells them the date by which the product should be sold or removed from shelf life. Again, this does not mean that the product is unsafe to consume after the date. In actual fact, around one-third of a product’s shelf-life remains after the sell-by date for the consumer to use at home. The food is often still good for a little while past the date as long as it is stored correctly.

The Best-By or Best Before date is all about quality and not safety. It is an advisory suggestion to the consumer on which date the product should be eaten to assure for ideal quality. It is still edible and okay to eat but you may notice a slight change in flavour, texture and colour.

Most of us throw out food prematurely and confusion over date labelling leads to billions of pounds of food waste every year. Most consumers mistakenly believe that dates on food indicate how safe the food is to eat when the dates indicate freshness and are used by manufacturers to convey when a product is at its peak.

Have I risked food poisoning to save money in the past? Yes, I probably have and that makes me a dreadful Dad. Would I give something to my Sprog that has passed its ‘Use-by’ date? What do you take me for?

Find out more at www.food.gov.uk

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