This afternoon the mindreading goblins who decide which ad goes at the top of yer Gmail ceased their Cougar obsession for long enough to point me to a site called “Openanduseb4”. This turned out to be a place which sells pre-printed labels which you can put on things you’ve opened so you don’t forget to use them before they go off. I am of course a great fan of entrepreneurial innovations but it does strike me that in this case the basic idea is really quite replicable to, well, anyone with stickers and a pen.

But really I was just annoyed because of what I hoped the site was: a food science exploration into whether or not a given use-by date actually means it. As I understand use-by dates, they’re enormous bet-hedges: what they mean is “if you eat this before this date it won’t be horrible” not “if you eat this after this date it WILL be horrible” – but the gap between horrible and non-horrible after the date passes varies hugely by foodstuff. I am always deeply wary of post-UBD milk, bread is also a danger zone, but other dairy products (cheese, butter, etc.) are fine for a good while after, and convenience food, weirdly enough, seems very conservative on its use-bys. (This post was prompted by a tub of chilled four cheese pasta sauce, forgotten about until 10 days after use-by and then ate largely to punish myself for buying the wretched thing in the first place – but it was fine! (i.e. tasted as bland as it always would have – the four cheeses are in there to NEGATE one another not enhance!)).

Where the UBDs really go into “help!” territory is meat – there is clearly some wiggle room but how much? Since moving house we’re now within striking distance of a good and trustworthy butcher, so hurrah nom nom tasty meat but also no use by dates. What, oh readers, are your policies on use-by dates?

(I am open to persuasion that UBDs in general are a huge conspiracy by supermarkets to get us to buy more stuff, but of course for the individual punter they’re also a good way to get extra discounts, especially at Waitrose in my experience.)