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Can ‘short date’ shopping seriously help you save?

Lots of tins with different best before dates

Would you shop for food that’s just passed its best before date? A flurry of new websites specialising in older goods are springing up – but is ‘short date shopping’ going to make you serious savings?

I get all manner of press releases every week with companies trying to convince me they have the next money-saving tip for hard-pressed consumers.

The latest one initially had me reaching for a sick bag. ‘The rise of the short date shopper – the new trend saving families £3,500 a year.’

Ah, ‘short date shopping’ – the concept of buying food that’s close to the end of its shelf life, or even out of date, at a major discount. Buy now before it rots, or pay even less while it’s putrefying.

Approvedfood.co.uk, which sent round the release, says that it can cut grocery bills by up to 80%, and that its website includes over 1,000 different products to choose from.

Want some tinned celery hearts with a best before date of September 2011? Yours for 49p. Grab some of Ainslie Harriott’s Spice Sensation Couscous (past its best before date in November last year) for a quid.

Challenging ‘best before’ date preconceptions

While on the face of it this sounds disgusting, and really not worth the savings you’re going to make, the NHS provides some interesting information about best before labelling on food. Its website states:

‘Except in the case of eggs, “best before” dates are about quality, not safety. When the date is passed, it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture.

Every year in the UK we throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink, most of which could have been eaten. So think carefully before throwing away food past its “best before” date.’

Not only that, but our Chief Policy Adviser Sue Davies recently wrote about the estimated 5.3 million tonnes of food we throw away every year in the UK, costing the average family with children about £50 a month:

‘WRAP has called for changes to the date marking on food because their research shows that we throw food away unnecessarily when it’s past the date shown.’

Creative ways to cut food bills?

A few months ago, we posted a piece on misshapen vegetables, which challenged the preconceptions people have about what they can and can’t eat. So, if you’re really finding it a struggle with your grocery bills, and you want to reduce food waste, this could be an alternative means of shopping, albeit perhaps a skimp on quality?

I’ve even dabbled in this in the past. A couple of years ago, my flatmate was writing an article about ‘freeganism’ – rifling through the bins of supermarkets for food that had been thrown away – and I decided to participate for a week. Although the freeganism movement has lots of anti-establishment motives, we just wanted to see if we could live off what we found in the bin.

While we managed to survive (thanks to a lot of roasting and sauces), it didn’t feel particularly nourishing, nor something that’d make a habit of. So perhaps being a short-date shopper would be a decent compromise?

Would you buy food that’s gone past its best before date and do you think it could make you some serious savings?

Comments
Member

Best Before is a quality thing. Yet there it is on a bag of apples. And there are people ready to throw food away – these apples away – just because of the labelling – without even looking at the food itself.

If those apples weren’t labelled like that they might look at the apples to see if any were going bad – or needed eating fast because they were starting to wrinkle.

Last night I used up some Coxes that had been in the fruit bowl since Christmas – cored them and roughly chopped and stewed then piled onto pork chops (seasoned and grilled both sides – top less than bottom) then another sliced and arranged on top and a sprinkle of sugar and grilled again. Nigel Slater thank you for best pork chops we’ve ever had..

When you are eating your apple do you rate the shape higher than the taste? Why do something different when buying?

Why would buying tins with a short Best Before life be disgusting? They are not going to go bad overnight. Just make sure they are not the ones you push to the back of the cupboard and keep for years AND they are things you ARE going to eat. It is a great way to sell – to people who want to and are prepared to buy rather than those who don’t. You may find a speciality you like at a great discount if you’re lucky. Oh those sun-blush tomatoes… and cherries in kirsch….

Member

I don’t think that egg labelling was ever changed after the Edwina Currie & the Eggs episode. Other legislation and/or guidelines re egg production were changed. It is ridiculous that it hasn’t been if salmonella is still such a problem.

Member

I have bought Italian Panatonne (sp?) 750g and Hellmann’s Real mayo
very close to or a little past sell-by date real cheap and they seem to
taste OK, at a 99p shop (2 x 400g as to latter) but I would not buy
again packaged ground coffee whatever brand name nr sell-by date
irrespective of price charged, for reasons that many wd have
guessed why… was a total waste of money what little I spent.

Good freshly roasted coffee is not something I wd compromise on.
Both for their superior flavour and aroma.

If oxidation has not occurred or too much, wd consider buying
at a significant/substantial discount, but not as to stuff that
contain nitrites and/or nitrates and whatever else deemed
harmful.

As to tired-looking fruit and veg, there’s a thing called reconstitution
thereof.

Member

Isn’t there a difference between ‘sell by date’ and ‘best before date’

Member

I’m always on the lookout for date-expiring bargains and reckon I save thousands a year. Sometimes they’re reduced by up to 90%, so the saving is significant. I buy multiple quantities when I can and freeze the excess. Sometimes it takes over a year till I get around to eating some things from the freezer, but they always taste fine and haven’t poisoned me (yet!), and I’ve been doing it for many years.

If people learnt to use their noses and eyes when testing the safety of food, rather than date labels, we would see a lot less food wastage.

Member

Have used one on-line “short date” store – no problems at all – qualities of the biscuits bought excellent – but the quantity bought meant I ate the same biscuits “forever”

I often buy short date goods from Sainsburys – they seem fine – To be honest I haven’t found a difference in taste between in date or out of date food.

At home I never throw any food away unless it is very visibly rotten or mouldy – (often simply cut the bad bit away) never bother about the date – after all when I started buying food in the 1940s it never had a sell by date on it – never had a problem.

My only stomach problem was eating too many unripe pears that I “scrumped” when I was a boy..

Member

Opps sorry – the on-line shop was Approvedfood

Damn the lack of an edit facility.

Member
par ailleurs says:
6 February 2012

I agree with richard 100%. What on earth has happened to commonsense? Look at it, smell it and eat it or not. We make a point of shopping in the stores that do a proper discount on fresh foods (M&S and Waitrose) which are on or near their sell-by date. Result-perfectly good food which will either be eaten within a day or two or frozen and used whenever convenient. The potential savings are huge, especially as with the cost reduction it means that we can buy the best free-range and/or organic produce too. Much nicer all round. Furthermore let’s not forget what will happen to the food the store doesn’t sell. It will end up in landfill. That’s bad for the environment and an insult to the farmer who produced it. It’s also an insult to any animal which died for food production.
I might add too that I can’t remember when there was last an outbreak of any stomach bug in this house. We don’t use anti-bacterial cleaners either but that’s another issue which could make me rant even more!

Member

While I haven’t specifically shopped for out of date food on the website mentioned above, I always have a keen eye for the wondrous ‘red sticker’ in Waitrose, especially on cuts of meat. Last weekend I picked up some exquisite beef that had been reduced from £18 to just £5 and popped it in the freezer. Voila, a cheap but delicious roast beef for dinner last night. Shame my roast potatoes turned out to be a disaster…

Member

There is an important distinction between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. The first is a quality issue and the second a safety issue.

With fruit and veg it is very easy to see the condition and sometimes fruit is not properly ripe until after the ‘use by’ date.

As I have said before, it is risky relying on whether certain foods look and smell OK. Heating food thoroughly will kill bacteria (apart from a couple of species that produce heat-stable spores) but will not remove heat-stable toxins produced while bacteria were growing. Don’t take my word for it but get the opinion of those who have to handle cases of food poisoning. In many cases food that smells OK will be safe to eat if thoroughly heated but it is a gamble.

A couple of friends have just returned from a week abroad. The holiday was ruined because both had food poisoning.

My solution is to avoid keeping foods, other than fruit & veg, past their ‘use by’ dates, which involves careful planning rather than waste. I have no problem with eating food that is past its ‘sell by’ date because that is unlikely to be a safety issue.

Note that the introduction does not mention eating foods that are past their ‘use by’ date.

Member

I thought shops cannot sell food past their display by date which is before the use by date? I certainly occassionally catch a bargain with the display by date is in the next couple of days – and haven’t suffered yet. As someone mentioned – use your common sense! We eat (and don’t suffer) ham at least a couple of weeks past it’s eat by date and like someone else, just cut off the mouldy bits on cheese. If the ham had a funny colour – it would go in the bin (compost bin of course). Yoghurt – generally safe to eat about a month after it says so – and if it isn’t, you’ll know (the top balloons!). Get a grip everyone!

Member

Borne out by an unfortunate personal experience as to mussels, shall
not buy uncooked shellfish or any other seafood nr sell-by date and
even if displayed for sale on ice shavings.

As to meat and poultry even though under wraps, there’s a good chance
of there being an undesirable stale smell even though it hasn’t gone off…
nah wd not buy that as well when discounted from ordinary selling price.

Member

“……from £18 to just £5….”

Have never ever known my local Waitrose to be that generous,
at best 10-20% off here and there but maybe I shd try shopping there
at last hour of day before they shut at ten, to see whether there are
real bargains to be had.

Member

I have a friend who is keen on supermarket shopping (to me it is less fun than cleaning the toilet) and is very keen on bargains. Waitrose occasionally does some very generous price reductions on food that has reached its ‘use by’ date. This is fine if the food can be frozen immediately.

Some supermarkets pay you to take food away if the price is reduced and there is a discount such as ‘buy-one-get-one-free’. My local Tesco got wise to this some time ago but my friend who shops in Waitrose says they still pay her money from time to time. I have eaten some of the evidence.

Member

Haven’t “sell by ” and “display until” dates now been dumped so that there are fewer dates ie just “best before” and “use by” dates on the packaging?

If we should be eating eggs before the “best before” date and they are the exception 🙂 then surely it is time that something was done to put them in a “use before” category. There also seem to be different ideas on how eggs should be stored. The problem was salmonella and eggshell is porous so washing them is not the answer. They are kept in the warm in shops and the fridge at home has a rack for them…

Sometimes I wonder whether the packaging is more poisonous than the contents – eg the lining on the tin or the chemicals in the plastic.

It is interesting that things can be kept so long in the freezer. I notice that everything only seems to have a best before date.

Member
par ailleurs says:
6 February 2012

Of course we all make our own decisions and live our own lives but I think wavechange that you are worrying too much. We have one health professional in this household and she eats the old stuff as enthusiastically as me. The only toxins that really should concern you are those from tinned meat or fish that has been opened and left exposed. The usual caveats apply to those with younger or compromised immune systems but the rest of us should get on with it and stop worrying. Most of the scare stories about bacterial growth are promoted enthusiastically by makers of anti- bac sprays and wipes I think. Enjoy eating all sorts of things and save money and the environment by not throwing away so much.

Member

par ailleurs

I don’t think all health professionals would agree, particularly those who have to deal with cases of food poisoning. One of the ways of our defences against food poisoning is the low pH of the stomach, but many people now take drugs to decrease acid production. They need to be added to your list of more vulnerable people for a start.

I don’t know about other people, but I pride myself in not wasting food. Apart from the odd piece of broccoli that goes yellow and the occasional potato that is forgotten about, I eat what I buy. That’s how I save money and avoid waste.

I regularly stay with a couple of health professionals who have a large family. They don’t waste food, whether bought or home grown, and they are careful to make sure that they and their children observe ‘use by’ dates.

I agree about the anti-bacterial product propaganda. In fact I have used this as an example to help university students studying biomedical science develop critical thinking skills.

Member

Very best offer I’d once seen at Waitrose was Thai green curry ready
meal reduced by 33.33%, no big deal, cd cook a more delicious one
from scratch very much cheaper and tastier too.

My experience of supermarkets is that they wd rather throw
things away than selling them cheap…..one rationale proffered
is that they don’t want a potential lawsuit on their hands…they
always err on the side of caution and who can blame them and
EVEN IF you’re prepared to sign a waiver.

Member

My packet of salt has a ‘best before’ date of September 2011 and will still have for the next couple of years at the rate I use salt. I have never had to throw salt away because of loss of quality, it always tastes ….err…. salty and does not go lumpy.

It occurs to me that bottles of spirits have no dates on them, which is good because I would have a cupboard of outdated booze. However, that denies me the opportunity of ever finding a nice peaty single malt whisky at a knock down price. 🙁

Member

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I always check salt that’s passed its sell-by date and if it tastes of sugar, I throw it away.

Member
Elizabeth says:
6 February 2012

Yesterday I ate half the contents of a tin of Waitrose petit pois and carrots with a date stamp of June 2010 (presumably ‘best before’ rather than ‘use by’).

I’m still here with no ill-effects whatsoever. The remainder of the contents are in a bowl in the fridge awaiting consumption tonight.

(Obviously if the tin had been dented or had shown signs of rust I would have thought twice about purchasing or using it.)

Member

Tinned food in undamaged cans will not go bad, though it might not taste very nice. There have been plenty of reports of canned food being still edible after many years.

Some acidic products (e.g. tinned fruit) contain acids that will damage the lacquer coating on the inside of the can within two or three years. The acid reacts with the steel and will produce hydrogen, gradually causing the ends of the can to swell. I learned this after writing to a manufacturer about a can that I had found at the back of the cupboard.

Member

Tinned peas taste nowhere like or as good as fresh frozen
things, shall never buy them again….always petit pois
given a choice.

Member

Wavechange

I still disagree – You and the company have described the worst case scenario – whereas usually it is the normal case scenario that prevails. Common sense states do not eat from rusty, blown or bent tins but I’ve never had a fruit tin “blow” on its own even though it may be ten years old. I usually examine the tin while washing it prior to recycling to the rubbish and varnish layer is intact..It is easy to detect if the tin is blown.

In the 50s and 60s it used to be possible to bulk buy unlabelled tins with unknown contents very very cheaply from wholesalers – the only guarantee was it was food of some sort. When I took my largish scout troop to summer camp I bought 100s of tins.purely to save money so more children could afford to have a holiday.
They were all marked – we would sort them in piles – then open one – The contents revealed – devise nutritious menu using the ingredients – never had a problem – Once we even had caviare!!

The only problem we ever had was a couple of boys were sick after eating a blackberry pie with fresh from the bush blackberries.- the other 42 including me were perfectly OK.

Member

Tinned food has been sterilised and as long as the seal is intact no bacteria or other microorganisms can enter. In the early days of canning, sealing and sterilisation of cans was less effective but failures are now extremely rare. I am not at all worried about me or anyone else eating food in cans that are past their ‘sell by date’.

I avoid cans that have been damaged, particularly near the seam or end caps because this could break the seal and allow bacteria and other microorganisms to enter and grow. This may cause the can to swell due to gas production by the bacteria, but there could be a lot of bugs present before this is obvious and there may or may not be an off-smell. I have only seen one case in my life, when a fellow microbiologist brought a can of tomatoes into the lab and simple microscopy suggested the presence of Clostridium bacteria, one species of which causes botulism. There is probably no more risk from canned food – however old – than of winning the jackpot in the National Lottery, but I equate buying damaged cans to buying a number of lottery tickets.

What concerns me is mainly the risk of eating pre-prepared food that is past its ‘use by’ date. That date is probably conservative to allow for a certain amount of storage under conditions that are not ideal, but I don’t want to take the risk. The number of food poisoning cases in the UK is just the number that are reported.

Member

We seem to be on the same wavelength about buying damaged tins! 🙂

My main concern is those who do not heat pre-prepared food thoroughly enough – Know a few people who are often sick from this – why they don’t learn their lesson is beyond me.

But I often eat frozen food past it’s sell by date – the food chart on the freezer indicates that such food lasts far longer than the ‘use by’ date and I certainly never had a problem – but I always well cook pre-prepared food.

Member

You raise an important point, Richard. Using a microwave oven to heat or reheat food is a problem because heating is uneven and the inside may not reach the temperature needed to kill bacteria. Stirring the food during heating is a great help, as is using a lower power setting, so that the heat has time to penetrate. Microwave heating is perfectly safe if used sensibly, but many people would be safer to use pans, where it is extremely unlikely that food would not be heated thoroughly.

As long as frozen food has been kept at the correct temperature it will remain safe to eat.

Member

I do have experience of perfectly good tins -not blown or dented – past their sell by dates, discovered at the back of the cupboard. Once opened, however, I discovered that the canning had leached into the food and it tasted acidic and odd. Thus, give or take a month or two, I respect sell by dates on cans. Cooked meat is also something I use soon after purchase, especially vacuum packed meat where the sell by date is incorrect once it has been opened. Milk rarely lasts beyond the date on the bottle and staples such as rice and flour go rancid over time. I do use out of date eggs in cakes, but like everyone else here, the main idea is to buy what you need and have good stock rotation. I get annoyed when I have to throw anything away.
Perhaps it is demeaning to suggest that charities should get the food that supermarkets throw away. But, if it is good,(and that’s the important bit) this enables them to provide more for less which can’t be a bad thing. Perhaps, also, supermarkets should be required to publish figures for the amount of food that they throw out and establish a league table for the most efficient stores.
I’d certainly rather see those with the greatest need getting cheap food than firms selling it to the public at a cut price. That doesn’t stop me looking at the bargain bin on my way round the store for something I can use at once.

Member

I believe the free food distribution done by many charities for the well below the poverty line are in fact short date food donated by supermarkets..

Member

Look out for shops specialising in short-dated and discontinued lines such as B & M here in the West Midlands. I have stocked up with such bargains as artichoke hearts for 49p, Keemun tea-bags (my favourite) for 49p instead of £2.19, catering packs of black peppercorns – 500 grams for £1.50 and many many more. I only buy products with a long shelf life and have never had a bad one.

Member

Whole black peppercorns not ground in quantity I wd buy if
cheap but not ground coffee nr BB or use-by date.

Whole cardamom pods both black and green seem to
retain their flavours w/out limit of time…. wd roast them first
to bring out their full potential before using for culinary
purposes.

Member
Angus McKay says:
4 February 2013

I have ordered from sites like this for years, have never had any issues with the dates and have saved a small fortune.

I can see you menstion approvedfood.co.uk, but you may want to also vist their competitors which is http://www.foodbargains.co.uk, what you can’t find a approved food you are sure to find a food bargains, so great bargains on the csite currently.