Best before date is misunderstood

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Can foods still be consumed after the expiration date?

Germans often dispose of food with an expired best before date (MDH) prematurely, even though the products would actually still be suitable for consumption. According to estimates by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), up to 20 million tons of food are thrown away every year.

In a current media campaign, consumers are therefore called upon to use food more carefully and the labeling with the best-before date is also being discussed. As a possible alternative, an award comparable to the British model is being discussed, in which the date is given as "Best before". Because, according to the experts, consumers often misinterpret the term "best before".

Misinterpretation of the best-before date After the Federal Ministry of Consumer Affairs reported back in May about the frightening amounts of food that are thrown away every year (tons of food end up in the rubbish), a survey carried out by the Forsa Institute on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection now shows that 58 percent of Germans regularly Discard food. For 84 percent of them, an expired best before date is the reason for throwing away the food. Because most of the respondents were convinced that food is bad as soon as the best-before date was exceeded. An interpretation that completely ignores the original approach of the MHD. Because the best-before date, which has been stipulated in the Food Labeling Ordinance since 1984, is rather intended as a kind of seal of approval that should guarantee product quality by the stated date. As an example, the food expert Petra Teitscheid from Münster University of Applied Sciences gave mineral water in plastic bottles to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", in which the manufacturer "guarantees until the best-before date that the carbonic acid remains in it for so long" - which, however, "has no impact on health at all" .

Examine food after expiry of the BBD Although politicians are voicing voices in favor of abolishing the BBD while introducing a replacement based on the British model "Best before", the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection advocates maintaining the BBD a. The best-before date is an established tool that has proven itself for years, the ministry said. In order to limit the MHD-related food waste, the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection believes that only improved information for manufacturers, consumers and retailers is required. In contrast to the use-by date, which can be found as the actual use-by date on perishable products such as meat or fish, the best-before date must again be understood as a seal of quality and important orientation aid, said the Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner. After the expiry of the best before date, a thorough inspection of the food is definitely appropriate, but consumers should trust more in their own senses, according to the Minister. Aigner emphasized that the appearance, smell and taste can usually be used to clearly determine whether a product has expired or not.

The food trade pleads for the best before date to be preserved. The Federal Association of German Food Trade (BVL) also pleads for the best before date and said that this was better than its reputation. For example, the BVL assumes that the majority of Germans do not see the best before date as an expiry date, but rather as a request to thoroughly check the edibility of the products after the printed date. Improved clarification would bring significantly more advantages here than the introduction of a new name, according to the BVL. Because with each new wording, consumers also have to learn to deal with it, emphasized BVL CEO Franz-Martin Rausch. However, it is not only the end consumers who dispose of food in bulk because of the expired best-before date, and in the supermarkets as well, all goods that have passed the best-before date are always sorted out. Some sell these goods to social institutions, such as the so-called blackboards, shortly before the expiry date, but many simply throw the goods away, regardless of whether they would still be edible or not. An education aimed exclusively at consumers, as requested by the BVL, would therefore only do justice to one aspect of the problem. In the future, the sometimes unsuccessful best before date could increasingly be supplemented by technologies that allow a better assessment of the state of food. The Baden-Württemberg company Bizerba relies on labels with special printing inks that change color the faster the product's cold chain is interrupted. The very general statement of the MHD could be clearly specified with the help of the so-called TTI labels, which document the "cooling history of each individual packaging", explained the Sales Director Labels and Consumables from Bizerba, Marc Büttgenbach.

Caution when eating expired fish, meat and lettuce With regard to the edibility of food with an expired expiry date, Brigitte Ahrens from the Lower Saxony Consumer Center in Hanover explained that special caution, for example, "with sliced ​​salmon in foil and with finely sliced ​​salad wrapped in foil "Is required. The consumption of these products after the expiration date is not recommended. In addition, according to Ahrens, caution is also advisable with sliced ​​and packaged sausages. Dairy products such as fruit yoghurt and buttermilk, on the other hand, can still be consumed even after the best-before date has expired, despite the fact that there may be slight changes in taste, the expert explained. In general, the best-before date usually refers to specific properties of the food, such as taste, smell or nutrient content, and spoiled products are relatively easy to recognize from the taste and smell, so that negative health effects from eating expired food tend to be the exception, the expert explained Consumer advice center. (fp)

Image: Gerd Altmann /

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