Expanding the Limits of Shelf Life

Use-by dates on food: iron-clad law or mere suggestion? I admit that when I had a toddler in the house, I was a bit paranoid about making sure she didn’t eat any perishables (like dairy) past their use-by dates. Now that she’s older, I’ve loosened up and go by smell, look, and taste when judging whether to eat superannuated foodstuffs. In fact, just the other day, I purchased an expired pack of cheese at Grocery Outlet for the amazing price of 33 cents. (Hey, we all have to economize these days.)

British writer and TV presenter Jonathan Maitland was inspired not by cheapness, but by food waste (which has been getting a lot of press in the UK) to take the “‘Best Before’ Challenge,” during which he spent two weeks eating various foods that were past their use-by dates. He chronicles his experiences in the Daily Mail.

He starts slow, with eggs just a day past their expiration dates, but soon ramps things up, eating items like four-days-expired sausages and nine-day-old moussaka without any physical harm (not even a tummy ache, let alone a day of driving the porcelain bus). Between diary entries, he writes about the environmental impact of food waste, interviews a “freegan” (a vegan who “lives off food that supermarkets throw out”), and gives basic food-safety tips for using expired foods (e.g., wash your hands, cook thoroughly).

The money shot comes 13 days in, when Maitland eats a slice of bread covered with green mold:

Enter some Hovis brown bread, three-and-a-half weeks past its Best Before date. Except it isn’t brown. It is mottled green. And smells of socks. I toast it and smother it in butter and marmalade. It is crunchy and tastes just like toast should, although during one mouthful I detect a hint of pepper.

Impressive? Yes. Revolting? Surely.

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