The EU proposes to scrap best before dates in a bid to reduce food waste. Here's our guide to knowing what's still good to eat, and what needs to go straight in the bin
Every year across Europe more than 100 million tons of food are thrown away. Much of it is perfectly edible. In a bid to reduce the amount of food ending up in the bin, officials on the European Council have proposed new legislation that will allow national governments to extend the list of foods that do not need a best before date.
Confusion over expiry dates and fears about eating something that's gone off leads to families throwing away an average of £660-worth of food every year! The new laws will remove the best before date from coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles, leaving us to rely on some good old fashioned common sense about what's still OK to eat.
As a general rule, things that are very salty, sugary, fermented or dried are very low risk. Proper dried Italian salami can last for more than a year, and 5,000-year-old honey found in ancient Egyptian pyramids has been found to be perfectly safe and quite edible.
So what is still OK to eat past its date? If something is so covered in mould it's growing its own eco-system then you can probably justify throwing it away, but with things like hard cheese and bread, it's perfectly acceptable to scrape off the mould and eat the middle bits.
Here's what you need to know about some other fridge staples.
Tomatoes are fine even a week or two past their date. Don't be put off because they're getting soft and wrinkly, they'll taste great and they're perfect for making pasta sauces, salsa or anything where the recipe calls for tinned tomatoes.
Avoid if: they're watery, growing mold, turning dark or beginning to smell of alcohol.
As long as you've kept them in the fridge, raw fillets of fish such as salmon, haddock and cod are good to eat for up to four weeks after they've been caught. That said, the date they've been caught doesn't appear on the packaging, and fish can sometimes take three weeks to make it from the sea to the supermarket, so try and buy fish when you know you're going to eat it straight away. White fish should have glossy skin, no smell and the flesh should stringy but firm when pressed.
Avoid if: the flesh leaves an indention when pressed, or it looks cloudy or smells of soap it needs to go straight in the bin.
Your nose will tell you very quickly if the milk has gone off, but don't throw it away yet! It's time for pancakes! The cooking process will kill any bacteria so it's perfectly safe and the slightly spoiled milk will give the pancakes an amazing extra flavour. Try it out with these banana pancakes if you don't believe us.
Eggs will be good to eat for up to four weeks after you buy them. If you're not sure, drop them into a bowl of water. Much like the 17th century rules for testing witches, if they sink they're absolutely fine, if they float they're bad. As an egg ages more air gets into through the microscopic holes, causing them to float.
Avoid if: they float in water.
Yoghurt is made using a lactic fermentation process which stabilises fresh milk to make it last. As a result you can often eat a yoghurt up to two months after the date. If it smells OK and still looks fresh, it's probably absolutely fine.
Avoid if: you can see any specks of mould which, on dairy products, can be any colour of the rainbow.
A good rule here is "be a chicken" and don't take any risks. If it's past its date say your goodbyes and promise to cook your chicken quicker next time. Buy the best possible quality chicken you can afford. Intensive battery farming leaves animals with a weakened immune system and a seriously high chance of passing on harmful bacteria to you. Free-range animals are much less susceptible to E coli as bacteria tend to remain in the gut rather than finding their way into the meat.
Avoid if: it's more than a day out of date or it smells even a little bit suspicious.