Should we worry about ‘out of date’ food?

food-labelHow much do we really know and understand about the dates given on our foods that we buy from supermarkets, grocers, butchers and the like? Apparently not a lot if the high food poisoning figures for the population are looked at. Is this due to us not understanding the meaning of the dates or how to store foods or how long to keep them for?

There is much confusion over durability dates given on food, with newspapers and television programmes happily discussing ‘sell by’ dates. There is no such thing as a ‘sell by’ date any more. The two types of durability dates are the ‘use by’ date and the ‘best before’ date.

A use by date is given on foods ‘which from a microbiological point of view are highly perishable and in consequence likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health’. In other words, they need to be stored in the fridge, they are going to go off quickly and could possibly give you food poisoning if they are eaten after the use by date. They will be found for example on meat, fish, ready meals, dairy foods such as cream or soft cheeses, pre-packed salads, foods containing eggs, such as egg sandwiches, etc.

You should always keep foods with a use by date in the fridge, and eat it within that date. You should never take a risk of eating it after that date even if it smells OK, as you cannot tell from the smell or look of it whether it is harmful to you.

A best before date is used on foods which do not have to be stored in the fridge as they are not highly perishable, such as tinned and dried foods such as coffee or pasta, cakes, bread, cereals etc. These products can be kept on the shelf for long periods of time without ‘going off’, and even then the food is only likely to go stale or hard as with bread and cakes, and will very rarely cause any food poisoning.

In shops, a food which is past its use by date cannot be sold or even displayed for sale as this is an offence. It is the shop’s responsibility to check the dates in their fridges and remove any foods before they reach the end of their use by date.

A shop can still sell a food past its best before date, as long as its quality is still OK. The responsibility for the quality of the food sold past its best before date passes from the manufacturer to the retailer, so the seller must ensure they have stored foods correctly in the shop and have a good system of stock rotation.

We do hope this article helps explain the differences. Have you been ever confused by use by/best before dates? Do you think we throw away too much food that is fit to eat? Write in and tell us your experiences…

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Feb 09 – Rob’s pancake recipe

pancakePancake Day is one of those days when every parent or grandparent has to “give it a go”. What can be cheaper to do than pancakes? Not only is it relatively cheap to cook but the value that everybody gets from having hours of fun together in the kitchen is immeasurable.

Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday does have a serious religious message. It was the feast dinner before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. What follows is 40 days of fasting till the arrival of Easter. Shrove Tuesday allowed early Christians a chance to cook eggs and fats that where likely to go bad during the fast. On the same day Christians are encouraged to go to confession where they would be “shriven” meaning “absolved of all sins”. A special pancake bell would ring from churches in London to summon parishioners to confession. Even in lean times pancakes where eaten on Candlemas Day-the day that all candles are blessed-and still are-for use at home and in church during the following year. Around the world many would process through the streets with lanterns and the blessed candles. In Paris women and children would walk along the river singing hymns and at the end of the procession they would indulge in a feast of crepes.

Now here in the UK and around the world we can indulge in pancakes any time of the year. There are indeed many worldwide varieties of pancakes such as the Scottish one (similar to dropped scones) or Russian versions called blinis used as a traditional garnish for caviar and off courses the well know French crepe-simple with butterscotch sauces or Suzette style with Grand Marnier and orange zest.

Tossing also stems form the Candlemas feast and many issues of fortune telling games. If the lady of a household can toss a pancake perfectly on the first go then she will never be short of money. If however it fails then the first pancake would be given to the chickens so that they would lay eggs in abundance during the forthcoming summer or it may be thrown into a tree for the crows to eat so that they would show gratitude by giving warning if the fox was about.

Whatever flavour you decide to do this year, sweet or savoury- just have fun. As a chef I say that whenever you do any food it is all about the organisation. Pancake Day however is different its about having a go. It is one of our most humble of fares soaked in festive history. See what is in the fridge chop it all together and chuck it in.

As for the tossing if you want to impress members of your family you may need to practice secretly first. The tip for a good “toss” is to have the pancake of the right thickness and indeed nicely cooked on the bottom side. You need the minimal amount of fat so it does not go all gloopy and then a good firm flick of the wrist.

My Recipe

Ingredients for basic batter:

  • 200g flour
  • 250ml milk
  • 150ml single cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • knob of butter

Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the cream, eggs, sugar and oil and beat all well till a smooth batter. Leave to rest for 1 hour. Beat again just before cooking. The above will make 20 pancakes 15cm or 6 inches in diameter. To cook them melt a little butter in a shallow frying pan or crepe pan if you have one. Pour of any surplus fat. Tilt the pan a little, pour in some batter and swirl it around the pan to spread evenly and waffer thin. Once golden and firm on the bottom either toss or flip with a wide palette knife.

To serve: Fold the pancake in half and sprinkle with caster sugar and squeeze of lemon juice. Fold into quarters and serve. Top with fresh vanilla ice cream. Ideas for fillings; apricots in rum, hot chocolate sauce, maple syrup and almonds, wild mushrooms, goats’ cheese and watercress, bananas and butterscotch, cherries and sour cream, pineapple and coconut or honey and lime.

Dec 08 – What’s Your Christmas Feast?

rob_christmasWhat’s your favourite Christmas food?

Rob Rees tells us his…

December is a month so full of traditions and for me the winter larder is a massive contribution to the tradition of Christmas. Here in Gloucestershire we are lucky enough to be living in an area well placed to bring the foody Christmas traditions to fruition.

Many of the region’s butchers bring us a variety of game, which is rich in flavour and natural goodness at this time of year. By its very nature it is extremely difficult for game to have been manipulated at the hands of mass production and the unadulterated meats sold by the man who has shot, hung and plucked it have a rich, raw and wholesome flavour unrivalled in today’s culinary world. Venison will always be a favourite for me at Christmas time. Whether it is a slow roasted haunch steeped in rich red wine, juniper and sage or perhaps some quick grilled medallions served as a winter salad or with “neeps”, it is always a winner.

Goose is always a great bird for the festive feast itself. Often now it is second best to the turkey, which is a shame. If you are thinking about goose this year then you need to take care during the cooking process to ensure maximum potential from your bird. Its important to add as much flavour as possible by filling the cavity of the bird with aromats such as thyme, bay leaf and garlic, maybe a studded onion and even pickled lemons or cooking apples if you like.

You also need to make a small incision under the wing of the goose and around the back by the parson’s nose – this will allow the fat to escape from the gland. As with turkeys and contrary to tradition it is best to cook any stuffing in a separate container so that the heat can penetrate all of the bird thoroughly till the juices are clear and safe to eat.

Whilst in the oven the goose still requires our respect. Before placing in the oven cover the legs with tin foil. I would then cook the bird on its back for the first hour and then turn it over. Take care to continue to baste with the excess fat keeping the bird moist. Cook till the back is golden brown and then recover with some foil. Cook for a further hour depending on the size of your goose – still keeping the legs covered. Sprinkle the back of the bird with a touch of sea salt, flour and cracked pepper to crisp up the skin in the final 30 minutes of cooking.

As with all meats you need to allow it time to relax once removed from the oven. 20 minutes should be enough time before your start to carve as required. Off course it has to served with great classics such as bread sauce, watercress and even game chips – simply shallow fry some thinly sliced washed and peeled potatoes to make your own crisps.

‘Tis the season to be poorly?

Of course turkey remains a firm favourite, but whatever meat you choose, make sure you know how to cook it safely to avoid the danger of food poisoning. See the FSA’s guide to seasonal food safety.

Five – a – day…

It always amazes me how we struggle to get the population to eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day and yet on Christmas day we consume absolutely tonnes of the stuff. I say keep it simple, don’t go over the top – try to balance it out over the other 364 days!  

The classics are always there – Brussels sprouts are vibrant, succulent and extremely earthy. Cross the stem, parboil till al dente then sauté with some spices, bacon and herbs. Bunch carrots and parsnips once scrubbed are delicious roasted with rosemary and honey. Remember that around Christmas time we are likely to have had a number of frosts – this is great news as the starches turn to sugars giving vegetables an even sweeter taste. With this in mind adapt your traditional recipe to cut back on the added sugar.

Say cheese…

As always the “pièce de résistance” has to be the Cotswold cheese board with the many local pickles and chutneys we have to choose from.

The cheeses produced in the Cotswolds are the best in the world. Forget the foreign imports. Don’t touch the ones with bits of apricot or cranberry just go for the real quality natural flavoured cheese.

I would actually suggest that this year you take time out from endless fiddly canapés and only offer a gem of a cheese board with freshly baked breads and some mulled wine.

What a year with so much food in the headlines. Let’s hope that the next actually achieves a cultural shift for the better in terms of foods we choose, cook and eat. 

Merry Christmas everyone and a very Happy New Year to all.