Alan Dee: Don’t get in a state about sell-by dates

HOORAH! We are to be freed from the tyranny of sell-by dates! Salvation is at hand, and no longer will we be forced to throw away £12 billion worth of food every year for fear that it will strike us down dead should it pass our lips.

This bold move, we are told, will save a typical family around £700 a year.

Speak for yourself, sunshine. Even though there are moves to simplify the displays, there are still going to be dates displayed on food – and that means lots of people will still bin perfectly edible grub because they haven’t got the wit to work out what’s good and what’s grotty.

Me, I never look at dates on food. I don’t like dates at all, to be honest, but I digress – we’re talking over-packed supermarket fare here, not sticky Christmas staples that nobody ever eats.

Rather than rely on what someone else reckons – and let’s face it, the supermarkets have a vested interest in adding a fair margin of error into their guidance, firstly to make sure they don’t get hauled before the courts by food poisoning victims and secondly because once you’ve chucked away some food you’ll only have to buy some more – I use some fairly simple rules.

Ready for a bit of domestic science education? Then here we go...

Rule one: If you’d expect it to be soft and it’s gone hard, it’s past its best. Anything that’s grown a crust needs examination – it still might be fine if you chop off the offending outside bits, but again use your common sense.

Rule two: If you’d expect it to be hard and it’s gone soft, ditto. This is mainly a fruit and veg rule and leads us nicely into...

Rule three: If it’s usually green and it’s gone brown, exercise caution. For green, read coloured generally – we’re talking about bananas, tomatoes, apples and the like here.

Rule four: If it’s usually brown and it’s gone green, ditto. We’re mainly talking meat, and the rule of thumb is that a faint radioactive tinge is your early warning sign that blithely tucking into that bacon sandwich could lead to an intimate acquaintance with the smallest room for the next couple of days.

Mould generally is a bit of a no-no, Stilton aside, but you should be able to tell if something has gone off from the smell alone.

Of course, most of us keep our food chilled in the fridge and it has no smell until it returns to room temperature, but that’s our fault.

Rule five: If milk looks iffy, make Mrs Dee a cup of tea. That way you reduce your own risk while running a check on a control group, and picking up a brownie point on the cuppa front.

Rule six: Whenever there’s a question mark over any item of food, ask Mrs Dee to smell it.

The request itself will tend to make her recommend it’s dumped, but then it’s not your fault.

So there you are – easy ways to check whether food is fine or foul.

Easier still is to stick it down in front of a dog. They’re not daft, and they will steer well clear of anything that’s got a bit of a whiff about it.

Unfortunately if it is still palatable they’ll wolf it down sharpish, which will probably work out even more expensive in the long run than being a slave to sell-by dates.