Rajan Jhanjee rang from his Paradise Stores CTN in Brentwood, Essex, with that hairy old question about 'best before' dates. We know that retailers can sell items past that date, but what constitutes a reasonable amount of time; ie what is the 'worst after'? There are no clear guidelines on this.

I tried to speak to someone about this. I have tried in the past with some success, but the Foods Standards Agency service has since become totally mechanised.

I rang the press office at 3pm on a Wednesday and was told I couldn't even leave a message except on another number, which turned out to be an independent message-taking office (and only if my query was urgent).

So I decided to become a consumer rather than a journalist and tried the main switchboard. I was told I would be put through to a food labelling department. A message there informed me that I needed the website and rattled off a mile-long address involving Trading Standards and food labels. It suggested emailing and promised to reply within 20 working days.

So I Googled and I got the following: "Foods with a best before date can be sold after that date provided they are of good quality and fit for consumption. Most pre-packed foods must carry a batch or lot number so a product can be traced if necessary."

For any more information I would be guided to my local trading standards office.

Given that there are several hundred local authorities and I wanted some central guidance rather than the local trading standards officer's take on what was 'reasonable', I gave up.

It seems to me that some products will last longer than other, best-befores notwithstanding. Tin cans of bully beef (or somesuch) found deeply frozen from decades-ago Arctic explorations have been found safe to eat. I imagine Worcestershire Sauce lasts a lo-o-o-o-ng time. When Messrs Lea & Perrins set out to invent a curry powder and then thought it might make a good sauce, the result was so strong that the product was exiled to a basement. A few years later it had mellowed, deemed tasty, and reached a welcome public in 1838.

Last June our Grocer website reported that the then government had announced plans to scrap sell-by and best before dates on most food labels in a bid to tackle Britain's food waste mountain. It would help reduce the 364,000 tons of edible food misguidedly binned by Britons each year because it had passed its best before date.

Ministers claimed consumers were being confused and misled by current labelling information, recommending that products carry only a 'use-before' label as a healthy safety guideline.

The web piece attracted an anonymous comment from a Dutch manufacturer who said: "This is an excellent idea. The concept that 'best before' does not mean 'product has expired' should be explained again to the public. We are a manufacturer of juices and drinks and I think this can only work as a European initiative. I do not believe the UK can run this on its own."

With an overturn in government and cutbacks galore, this probably isn't high up anyone's agenda.

Meanwhile, it's my opinion that various foods go 'off' at different rates. Let's have some feedback. You guys know better than most. How old before you chuck them out or eat them yourselves?

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