In Switzerland, around two million tons of food are thrown out every year. This often includes products that still taste perfectly fine and pose no health risk when consumed. One of the reasons for this is the prevailing misconception that an item whose sell-by-date has past must therefore be spoiled and belongs in the bin.
Producers are required by law to print information about the shelf-life on all food items they sell. Only honey, sugar, salt, wine and spirit drinks are exempt from this rule because they keep virtually indefinitely when stored in normal conditions. For all other foods, it is necessary to distinguish between the minimum sell-by-date and the use-by-date:
Rely on your senses
The "Best when used before" label refers to the date until when the seller can guarantee the full quality of the product. This also applies to aspects such as colour and consistency. In other words, the minimum best-before-date does not indicate when a product spoils; it only refers to the earliest date on which its quality may be compromised. Furthermore, many producers play it extra safe by setting an even earlier expiration date in order to eliminate the risk of complaints. This means they stand to benefit twice, because consumers that throw out more unused products will often also buy new ones, thus increasing producers’ turnover.
Before you throw out an expired food item, be sure to test in with all your senses in every case: Unless you see mould or smell an unpleasant odour, you can try a small sample to see how it tastes. By applying this method consistently, you can save considerable costs, and also help to protect the environment.
Storage and hygiene influence the shelf lifeAll this, however, does not apply to easily perishable foods such as meat and fish, which come with a use-by-date. This date must to be observed, and you should not consume products after it has passed. You do, however, have the possibility to freeze the item right up to its expiration date and thereby keep it for several more months.
In addition, you can extend the shelf life of food by paying close attention to the way it's stored in terms of hygiene and temperature. Your refrigerator's temperature should not be more than five degrees, and that of your freezer should be at least -18 degrees. When storing food at room temperature, make sure it is in a properly sealed container and in a dry place. And when preparing food, it is essential to clean the workspace and to wash your hands.