The 'best before' challenge ... One man boldly goes beyond the use-by dates on his food

By Jonathan Maitland
Last updated at 1:30 AM on 08th June 2008

It is lunchtime and I am arguing with my wife. It is a big one. We are entering neighbours-can-hear-every-word territory. Something terrible has come between us: an uncooked piece of chicken. My wife Emily points out that it is six days past its Use-By date and shouts: 'It's gone off, idiot!'

She accuses me of trying to poison my stepson Felix, 16, who, like me, wants to eat it. I say she shouldn't believe everything she reads on the label. This makes things worse.

Welcome to an unusual experiment. For two weeks I have decided to eat increasingly out-of-date supermarket-food in an attempt to discover the truth about Use-By and Best Before dates, and prove that Britain is throwing out tons of perfectly good produce.



My first supermarket ready meal: Asda Chinese Chicken in Black Bean Sauce with boiled rice, eight days past its Use-By date. The sauce is bitter. This may be what it's usually like or it may be it's off: having never eaten this dish before, I don't know. The next day I feel great.

Ironically, my wife has stomach cramps after eating fresh fish. I can't help laughing.

As part of my investigation, I also want to highlight how much food is thrown out by supermarkets, as opposed to the customer. To this end, I meet Alf, an Oxford graduate in his 30s who is a 'Freegan' - that is, he lives off food that supermarkets throw out.

I join him on a food raid, or 'food liberation exercise'. We meet in a town in Kent just after the local Iceland and Sainsbury's have closed.

Minutes later, having rummaged through six bins, we've filled four carrier bags with cooked gammon steaks, ham, cheese, bread, cans of butter beans, pilchards, trifles (joy of joys), apples, tomatoes, a toad-in-the-hole ready meal, sausages, grapes (from Chile), carrot cake, sugar, yogurt, Scotch pancakes, pasta, chocolate and fresh mushrooms.

All of it is still in its packaging, much of it isn't even out of date: some has been thrown out because the packaging is slightly damaged.
Read the whole thing, it's vastly entertaining. Human beings are equipped with two things that make "Use By" dates irrelevant: a nose and fire. It's easy to determine when food is past it's prime or downright dangerous for the most part. On the other hand, you could bite into a scrubbed, fresh tomato and die of salmonella poisoning.

Freaking At Food