UNDERSTANDING SHELF LIFE
Something like a fillet of fresh fish needs to be eaten within a few days of being caught, but a tin of baked beans can sit happily on a shelf for months or even a year before it needs to be eaten. The ‘Shelf Life’ of a food is the length of time it can be stored before it needs to either be eaten or thrown away.
WHY IS SHELF LIFE IMPORTANT?
Manufacturers and retailers make sure we aren’t eating food that is past its best, and possibly dangerous to eat. Aside from that, shelf life is also important because it plays a big role in food waste. Most of this is a result of people buying food and not having a chance to eat it before its shelf life has expired, so to avoid wasting the food you buy.
It’s Important To Learn How To
Plan your meals and
Use up leftovers.
USE BY vs BEST BEFORE
Shelf life is generally labelled in one of two ways
Food that is highly perishable and goes off quickly like fresh meat or fish will have a ‘use by’ date stamped on it. For safety reasons, food should always be eaten by this date; never after. Eating food past its use by date can put you at risk of food poisoning due to bacteria growth and food spoilage. You can usually tell when food is past its best, but even if a food looks normal and doesn’t smell funny, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe to eat!
Foods that are less perishable, like breakfast cereals, and other dried and tinned foods, are labelled with a ‘best before’ date. Even though these foods may not be at their best if you eat them after this date, they should still be perfectly safe to eat.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR?
All food products come with storage, preparation and cooking instructions, as recommended by the manufacturer on the pack label.
A label says ‘once opened, use within 2 days’ this means that the food will deteriorate quickly and not be good to eat, or good for you, after that time. It’s important to follow these instructions because this information is there to prevent you from eating something that has gone off.
∗Remember that you can often freeze food to eat at a later date; just follow the recommended storage instructions given on the pack, like ‘freeze on day of purchase’ and ‘defrost thoroughly before use’.