Opinion: Best before dates might just be a waste of time...
Hardly a week goes by when Irish agriculture isn't attacked for its contribution to climate change. But another highly significant, connected, issue, which gets far less attention is food waste; and it's one that everyone, not just farmers, could be addressing.
Among the many stark figures is that one third of the food produced in the world is wasted and, if food waste were a country, it would be the world's third largest, after China and the US. In the EU, every one of us throws out 80kg of food a year on average.
The problem is especially bad this time of year when we seem to have adopted a motto of "Eat, drink and be wasteful". Even the usually prudent lose the run of themselves.
In the past when shops were closed for much longer over the festive period, people bought far less. Of course, money was less plentiful and food relatively more expensive.
The UN has set a target of halving food waste by 2030. All EU Member States have signed up to this but the union has no binding targets on waste.
A 2013 US report on food expiration dates concluded that these were the cause of high, rising, rates of waste.
The EU's health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis recently launched an initiative on reducing waste. Among the areas being mooted for action are a relaxation of the rules on the use of donated food and shelf/expiry dates. This latter one is a bug-bear of mine. We have lost confidence in our own ability to judge when something is OK to eat.
Shelf dates are a fairly recent concept. They only started when supermarkets took over selling milk and the link between the farmer and the consumer was lost. Marks & Spencer starting using them in its store rooms in the 1950s but it was 1973 before Use-By appeared in supermarkets.