I had no sooner written about best-before dates than I was contacted by David Prout who runs Collingham Post Office in West Yorkshire. He writes: "We have been selling frozen bread. This is the only way we can avoid throwing out bread which is not sold by the sell-by date. We have now been advised that this practice is illegal. Can you advise if this is true, please?"
I initially spoke to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and a spokesman said that, although there are best-before dates on bread, it doesn't mean you can't sell it after that date. Just make customers aware that you are 'freezing it for freshness', or some such. The FSA believes that there is far too much food wasted in this world, not to mention the throwing out of profit with the waste. It would also like to see packaging terminology simplified and says that 'sell-by date' tends to get used as a catch-all phrase which leads to further confusion.
When I got back to David with this info I asked him who had 'labelled' this bread 'illegal' and he replied: "We have spoken to our supplier (Warburtons) who couldn't see a problem, but as we were worried that we may be prosecuted we rang Trading Standards as well. They assured us that it was illegal and that we could be prosecuted."
A job for the Trading Standards Institute, I thought. However, it isn't really contactable directly anymore. I was referred to the trading standards division of Consumer Direct which, you may remember, also replaced Energywatch which probably went under due to the number of retailers complaining about their power suppliers, but I digress
Consumer Direct were not bad. Off the top of her head the spokeswoman said well, selling frozen bread could be contrary to the Sale of Goods Act, the bit that says goods must be of a satisfactory quality. Then she spoiled it by saying my local TSO would call me with clearer info. That's no good I said, I live in London, the retailer's store is in West Yorkshire and TSOs there won't speak to me because I'm not on their patch.
It's clearly down to interpretation. A delightful Lincolnshire retailer who wishes to remain anon (so I'll call her Mrs Shy) said she also freezes bread because she has to buy a minimum delivery, and her TSO is okay with that.
Mrs Shy also had more intelligence on eggs. The FSA sent her a useful leaflet (Safer food, Better Business for Retailers) which explains that it is illegal to sell eggs any later than seven days before their best-before date (in other words that best before is for the consumer's guidance, not the retailers).
"They say, for example, if the best before is March 21, take them off the shelves by March 14 and throw them out. I say eat them!"