Best-before dates, sell-by dates, use-by dates; do you know the difference between them? Stats say almost 80% of us don’t, which is why Jamie and Jimmy went about putting the record straight in the third episode of Friday Night Feast.
What many of us don’t know is that use-by dates are really the only numbers to which we need to pay attention. Reserved for highly perishable food like meat and fish, use-by dates will tell you at what point food is dangerous to eat. All the other dates, however, are simply the supermarket’s guess as to when food will be past its best. This doesn’t mean they’ll make you ill or they’ll taste bad, they’re just a marker of quality that supermarkets use to rotate their stock.
The problem arises when we treat all printed dates as though they were use-by dates, and bin perfectly edible food because the numbers tell us to. As Jamie says in the show, gone are the days when we’d trust our own judgement on whether or not food is still good to eat. With UK households throwing out around 4.2 million tonnes of edible food every year, it’s time we all got savvy and learned how to tell when our food is off.
Here are a few basic ways to save the food that we most commonly throw away.
To check the freshness of an egg, simply place it in a bowl of cold water. If it’s fresh, the egg will lie horizontally at the bottom of the bowl , but if it’s stale, it’ll float vertically. When the egg floats at a tilted angle, it’s probably only a week or so old, and still good to eat – if that’s the case, you’re not short of recipes for using them up.
Yoghurt & milk
When it comes to yoghurt and milk, best-before dates can be way off. If it smells or tastes ok, then it’s probably ok. You can simply use up the last bit of milk or yoghurt in a delicious smoothie, or for your Sunday morning pancakes.
You can’t eat mouldy soft cheese, but it’s ok to cut the mould off hard cheese. Use up leftover bits and pieces in Jamie’s oozy cheesy pasta recipe, or try melting it on pizzas or in quesadillas. It’s a great idea to save Parmesan rinds too – add them to soups, stews or risottos, as they cook down and add delicious flavour. Alternatively, you can grate hard cheese and freeze it in sandwich bags, ready to sprinkle straight onto pasta bakes or pizzas before cooking.
Fruit & vegetables
Unless they’re mouldy or wrinkly, fruit and veg are fine to eat, irrelevant of the best-before date. If it’s on the turn you can easily save it by freezing it (click here for more ideas), or if you’ve got a glut of veg, chop them into a curry, soup or pasta sauce, and freeze the leftovers.
Britain throws away the equivalent of 24 million slices of bread every year, but there are a number of amazing traditional recipes for using up stale bread, such as panzanella and bread and butter pudding. Alternatively, you could tear leftover bread into a food processor for homemade breadcrumbs (sprinkle them on pasta bakes, lasagnes and shepherd’s pies), or use them to bind burgers and meatballs.
Recipes often call for fresh herbs, but we rarely use as much as we buy, because unfortunately they don’t last long. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save them from the bin. Try trimming the stalks, wrapping them in damp kitchen paper and storing them in the fridge, which will help to keep them for longer. The only exception is basil – keep it out of the fridge!
If you’re not planning on using up your herbs anytime soon, however, chop them up into salsa verde (delicious with roast lamb, fish and steak) or combine with softened butter and crushed garlic for delicious garlicky herb butter. You can freeze both until you need them.
So, if you want to get clever with the way you cook and save on the pennies too, get smart and forget the best-before dates.