Supermarkets have one important goal, to make money.
While they sell an array of products to consumers, some of them are perishable—for example, groceries, drinks, and other food products.
To ensure that perishable products do not go bad on the shelves, supermarkets run various campaigns to encourage customers to purchase the products.
Foods closer to their expiration date are usually put on a quickfire sale and their prices are reduced if much of the product is still in stock.
This is necessary because once the products go bad, the supermarkets usually toss them out, leading to losses.
In some instances, slow-moving products may attract discounted prices which is typically geared at clearing stock and salvaging profits.
Stores will often move products near the billing counter or front rows, to give them visibility and entice customers to pick them up off the shelves.
But while consumers scoop the products, how safe are they for consumption?
“Best By,” “Use By” and “Sell By” Dates
Consumers often confuse the meaning of these and other similar terms, using them interchangeably.
However, there are some notable differences.
According to global food safety organisations, "Best if Used By/Before" denotes the period when a product will be of the best quality or flavor. This does not indicate a purchase or safety date.
“Sell-by” informs the seller how long to display the product for purchase. It also does not denote a safety date.
On the other hand, “Use-by” indicates the last date recommended to consume the product while at peak quality.
Are Such Products Safe for Human Consumption?
A “use-by” date is related to food safety while a “best-before” date is about the food quality, according to the UK Food Standards Agency.
This means that you should not eat food after the “use-by” date because it could make you ill, regardless of whether it looks good or smells okay.
Since the “best-before” date is about quality, food past such a date is safe for consumption but it may not be of the best quality.
Kenyans.co.ke spoke with nutritionist Lucy Chege who affirmed that caution should be taken concerning foods past the expiration date.
“Best-before" indicates the period of optimum quality, where food may still be safe to eat after this date but might lose flavor or texture,” said Lucy.
“However, "use-by" denotes the date until which food remains safe to consume. In these cases, it's best to tread on the side of caution and discard items past their "use-by" date to avoid health risks,” she continued.
The Sale of ‘Almost-expired’ Products
Based on these definitions, a UK-based retailer, Approved Food, has specialized in selling products that are near or beyond their “best-before” date.
The founder of Approved Food, Dan Cluderay, got into the business when he noted that most retailers find it difficult to sell foods whose dates are past the labeled dates.
The company has over the years advocated for better public education concerning the meaning of these labels, noting that retailers throw away food unnecessarily because consumers do not know how to interpret the labels.
The company maintains that consumers are attracted to their products due to the lower prices.
Thus, while you may pick a product close to the “best-before” date from the supermarket shelf, it is important to store the food properly to ensure safety, regardless of the date.