Do your customers ever ask you about the various dates they find on packages? According to a recent government survey, 50% of people don't know what 'best before' or 'use by' mean. The confusion contributes to the other statistic: that we all throw away seven million tonnes of food (£10bn-worth) every year.

Do we need the dates? Is it more nanny state?

According to TV cook Clarissa Dickson Wright: "Man has survived and prospered for more than 150,000 years without the help of use-by dates." She considers them "a scam".

I have to differ. Listeria cannot be detected by the nose alone and goods these days travel many miles through several stages of the food chain. You can't be too careful Clarissa, not with

use-by dates which go on perishables only.

The best-before guideline is a different matter. Items may still be okay after the date, but the flavour and texture, ie the quality, may have deteriorated.

This brings me to Manjit Sokhal, who rang from Coppice Lane Off Licence in Willenhall, West Midlands. She had bought a load of Pampers wet wipes on promotion from a cash and carry and noticed two dates on the package, separated by 30 months. The Procter & Gamble customer helpline told me that the earlier of the two is the production date and the later date acts as a best before. She said she had never been asked about the dates before and had been in the job some time.

In Manjit's case the best-before dates were drawing close. In time the wet wipes would dry out.

I suggested that Manjit do the same as the cash and carry - put the remaining stock on promotion. (And she can also inform customers that, once opened, the contents are still good for another three months.)

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