Are they really as necessary as we've been led to believe?
It's my opinion that only pre-packaged raw meats, dairy products and breads need a clearly visible use by date. On everything else, I'd prefer to see a "packed on" date. That way we could instantly see how old the things we are buying actually are. Many things are filled with preservatives, natural or otherwise, and have a long shelf life. So buying something labelled "use by June 2011, doesn't really give any indication that the item was canned (or jarred or bottled) way back in, oh, let's say 2005, or earlier. I do think that things containing lots of preservative such as sugar, (jams for instance), don't really need a "use by" or even a "best by" date at all. Everyone knows these things will last unopened for quite a while, and once they are opened, who keeps them for more than a month anyway?
What brought this subject to mind was an old article I'd read and saved in a folder (god knows why?)and found again this morning. It told of a person who had checked every can, packet and jar in her pantry, fridge and freezer, then thrown out everything that was close to its date, even frozen foods. This seems senseless to me, a shocking waste of money.
Think for a minute about how our ancestors managed their food supplies. Spoiled foods were thrown to the dogs, especially meats, but other things, flour, rice, etc was kept in tins and regularly used up with the days meals. If weevils were found, grandma probably just sifted them out and kept baking, with no-one the wiser and no-one got sick. Fruit was eaten fresh and ripe, (none of this unripe, let it sit in the bowl for a week to ripen stuff that we get today*) and surplus that was going a bit soft certainly wasn't thrown out. Stewed fruits were made for desserts such as apple pie or crumble, plum cobbler etc, or even turned into homemade jams. Slightly wilted vegetables became soups or stews, even casseroles.
People knew more about how long food could be kept and how to store it. Even more recently, most people knew that if sliced processed meats were bought, they could be kept more than a day or two, by putting the ham or beef or fritz (devon to all you Easteners) into a fresh container each day. Much like the Christmas Ham is "preserved" by putting it into a bag after covering it with a cloth that is wrung out in a vinegar/water solution, (vinegar to prevent bacterial growth), a fresh cloth every day. We still do this these days.....why not similar treatment for our sandwich meats?
When did we become so reliant on what the "authorities" tell us is the right time to toss out our provisions and go shopping for "fresh" supplies? Can this be reversed by a little thinking and planning on our part?
*most fruits today are sold unripe and rock hard, many have been in cold storage, and people have gotten used to eating it this way. Try buying tree ripened peaches for instance, at the next Farmers Market, in the proper season of course. Bite into a peach that is ripe, soft, (without being squishy), juicy and filled with flavour the way a peach should be. Supermarket ones are more like cricket balls...
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