If food is stored for too long in the warehouse or on the shelves it can develop harmful bacteria and can lead to food poisoning. That’s not the type of customer feedback you want to read about in the papers. Make sure the whole team understand the different dates and other advice on the packaging of the food you sell whenever you offer food safety training.
Use-by dates are all about safety
Food must not be displayed, sold or eaten after its use-by date. Obviously, food that goes off quickly will have short use-by dates. That includes things like ready-washed salads and meat products. Other foods might have a much longer shelf life. Whatever the product, its use-by date only remains useful if it has been stored according to instructions. For example, it is not a good idea to unload frozen foods into a hot warehouse and leave them there for an hour or two before putting them into freezer cabinets. Chilled and frozen food must always be stored at the correct temperatures. Products that have partially de-frosted and then been frozen again can quickly develop bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Best before dates are all about quality
Some producers and sellers provide a ‘best before end’ (BBE) date alongside the use-by date. This date is there to give an indication of food quality. The food will remain safe to eat until its use-by date, but its texture and flavour may decline. A good example of this is bread. A soft and fluffy loaf might become firmer once its BBE date has passed but will still be safe to eat for a day or two. BBE dates are commonly found on frozen, dried and tinned foods and on a whole range of products stocked in some supermarkets. Just like use-by dates, BBE dates are only useful if the food has been stored correctly.
Food banks and charities
Just because an organisation is supplying food for free it does not mean that they can ignore food safety regulations. Food can smell and look normal even after its use-by date. It might still be contaminated. The bacteria that cause food poisoning are invisible, tasteless and odourless. Even if you think a foodstuff seems OK, handing out food after its use-by date puts others at risk.
In times of austerity, individual consumers sometimes question whether they can safely ignore the dates on food packaging. The truth is that if they do so they are gambling with their health. That’s a risk that any organisation involved with the production, preparation, making or selling of food cannot afford to take.