Thursday, October 31, 2013


Eat or not to eat? That is the million dollar question before the consumers when hard decisions are to be made regarding the advisability of consuming food products past their "expiry" date or "best before' date! Though from time to time many experts express their view that most foods past their expiry date are still edible and fit for consumption, consumers still do not have sufficient confidence on their safety leading to millions of tons of foods being wasted all over the world. Britishers were wise to take the stand some time back that food should not be wasted just because it is past its expiry date. Many other countries are also realizing now that such declaration on the front of the label, though supposed to be advisory, forces the industry as well as the consumers to throw them out into garbage. While industry needs legal protection against consumers suing them if some thing happens after consuming a date expired food, consumers with no basic awareness about food safety faithfully follows the expiry date as a gospel truth refusing to even buy them, let alone consume them. What a dilemma in a world where almost one third of the population are famished for want of access to good food. Here is a take on this situation in some of the countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand and views of some experts regarding the safety of some of the foods with their expiry date over.

"Consumers should be aware that the expiry date is only a guide for quality and when a product is at its best, according to new US Department of Agriculture guidelines. But while giving the thumbs-up to some foods, it still cautions against certain meats and food items such as spinach and lettuce. Hard cheese, cured meats and hard vegetables can be eaten so long as mould is removed. Other items can be eaten at your own discretion, according to Jena Roberts, vice president of business development at the National Food Lab. Foods that never go off. Ms Roberts told ABC News that she couldn't pinpoint a single food safety issue that happened because food was past its used by date. She agreed the dates should be used as "only a guide". She said spinach and lettuce were the only foods which should be thrown out because "there isn't a heat step or a process to kill pathogens." Meat should be followed to the date, unless it is frozen, while condiments including mustard are fair game. "Bacteria isn't going to grow in them. It's just a quality issue," she said. Food Standards Australia New Zealand is a little less relaxed, advising that foods that have an expired used by date should not be eaten "because of health and safety reasons". However food with a best before date may be safe, although the quality and taste of the food may be affected. Spices: The quality of spices declines with age but they don't go off. Olive oil: Keeps for about two years unopened in the pantry or fridge. Vinegar: Keeps indefinitely although the quality will decrease. Dried pasta: Keeps for years in the pantry. Sesame seeds: Keep for years in the pantry or the fridge".

In general many dry foods with low moisture content or water activity keep well without causing any ill effect from most pathogenic microbes but they may be vulnerable to attack by insects of different types if not properly fumigated before packing. A sure way of keeping even the dry foods safe is to store under low temperatures obtained in domestic refrigerators. Consumers face the difficult choice while deciding about the safety of high moisture and rich foods with high pH which are easily vulnerable to microbial attack under ambient conditions. Here again there is a mistaken conception that the contents would be safe after properly heating the same. It is true most of the time reheating of high moisture foods will kill all microorganisms but one has to be aware of the toxins excreted by them before dying which can cause some health problem among many consumers. On the whole keeping any food under vacuum or at refrigerated temperatures or in frozen state can ensure a reasonable degree of protection to the consumer. All said and done it may be time to revisit the present system of indicating storage life on the packed foods by suitably including another provision to say such foods are unsafe after a certain date to be compulsorily thrown away. Is it practical? Will the industry agree for it? No harm in trying! 


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