Guidelines are well intended and are quite often better than laws. They should mean that common sense comes into play, although the downside is that they lead to grey areas or even 'opinions'.

The 'best before' dates on foods are guidelines, as I'm sure most of you know but go past the 'use by' dates and you could have customers reporting you and officials descending.

And sometimes they descend anyway. Alvin Wilkinson, who runs Countdown in Hornsea, East Yorkshire, rang to say that he had had a bit of a barny with his trading standards officer who "didn't like the reduced basket". Bread and eggs were both called into question. "I said, 'Is it the law?' He said, 'No, it's what I believe that counts'."

And what the TSO believed was that Alvin should get shot of the lot within two to three weeks or he would order an analysis. He then wrote to say he was coming back in a month.

Alvin had already done some research when he rang me. He had seen a story in a Sunday paper which featured a man selling cheap goods on the internet which were beyond their best befores and realised the bloke was sourcing his goods from the same broker that Alvin himself was using. So he rang his local paper (never adverse to a bit of media spotlight, is Alvin) and they did a punt around and reported back that there were no time limit restrictions on best before dates. When he rang me he was wondering whether to share his research with the TSO before he showed up again.

Again, there are no hard and fast rules. By all means share, but do it nicely. You want the officer on your side.

Also be aware that the EC's Egg Marketing Standards Regulations require eggs to have best before rather than use by dates, but eggs can contain salmonella bacteria, which could start to multiply after this date. And you don't want to poison anyone, do you?

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