Be wary of expired food items this festive season

The bulk-buying season is upon us but when you buy those tinned beans, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and sweet treats, consider the expiry dates.

The director of consumer education, awareness and stakeholder relations at the Gauteng Office of Consumer Affairs, Milly Viljoen, says that as much as purchasing goods in bulk may provide relief to consumers and spare them the rising cost of groceries, for a few months, it may also create financial constraints should the goods expire before they can be eaten.

Viljoen says consumers are encouraged to check the expiry dates when buying goods in bulk.

We know that it is easy to get confused between the best-before dates and the expiration dates.

Expiry dates on food items are a health and safety measure, but they are also the mortal enemy of food waste. Often, people think that best-before dates and expiration dates are the same thing.

Knowing which foods have expiration dates and what the best-before dates are will help you plan your meals.

Before we get into how you can shop smart this festive season, let us first explain the difference between the best-before date and the -expiry date when it comes to food.

Best before

“Best before” refers to the freshness date. It tells you how long the product will be at its best flavour and quality. Baked goods, cereals, snacks, frozen entrées and some canned food will have this.

After the best-before date, the food may lose its freshness, aroma or nutrients. For example, potato chips may lose crispness or canned fruits may lose sweetness.

All in all, it is about the taste, not so much the safety.

Expiry date

While a best-before date indicates freshness, the expiry date tells consumers the last day a product is safe for consumption. In other words, the best-before dates are quality indicators, and expiry dates are cut-off periods.

Expiry dates are sometimes interchangeable with “use by” dates, which label highly perishable products, such as seafood and meat.

Sell-by

In addition, “sell-by” dates tells the store how long it can display the food for sale. It is best, of course, to buy the food before it reaches the sell-by date. Refrigerate once you buy it or freeze it for longer storage.

How do you shop smartly to ensure that we do not buy expired goods? Viljoen shares some of the things you should be aware of:

  • It is your right to choose or examine goods, even after purchase and delivery. Check there are no dented cans of food when buying in bulk, as they may harm your health.
  • The “no exchange – no refund” signs are illegal. Suppliers are obliged to refund, repair or replace the failed, unsafe and defective goods within six months after delivery of such goods. Know your rights and transact confidently during the festive season.
  • Suppliers are not permitted to alter, amend, conceal, remove or deface trademarks and other product labellings to mislead consumers.
  • If you notice or suspect any alterations or amendments to the expiry dates, report it to the store manager. Know your rights and transact confidently during the festive season.
  • Keep your sales records (receipts) safe in case there is a need to return the goods to the supplier. -IOL

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