Spoiling fruit, veggies and consumers

Overripe fruitMost food producers have at least a few products in their portfolio focused on convenience; pre-cut, pre-cooked, portion-sized packages, etc. Consumers live such busy lives that – if they can manage doing the groceries themselves, in the physical store – they prefer to spend as little time doing the shopping and preparing for their meals. This means that they buy or receive the groceries once a week, and products have to stay fresh for days, or else it will be thrown away untouched. Determining the freshness of a product can be done by visual inspection of the product or by looking at the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date on the packaging.

Last May Tesco announced that they would remove those dates from the labels of 70 of its own-brand products to reduce food waste. Consumers would be confused by the difference between the ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, which would cause them to throw away perfectly fine food immediately after the best before date. Tesco decided that they would no longer guide the consumers with printed dates, and will leave them to decide for themselves whether their fruits and veggies are still fit for consumption.

It’s not like consumers are completely helpless; some of them have some experience with visually inspecting foods. Most larger supermarkets have a department with open crates where you can pick and choose your own amount, sizes and shapes of fruits and vegetables. But consumers have been spoiled by the food industry; we have invented more and more products that retain their premium quality for days, thanks to MAP, acidifiers, stabilizers, colour retainers, flavour enhancers, etc. Would it not have a larger effect if we could teach the consumers that fruits and vegetables are also very healthy a little before and a while after their ‘optimal consumption date’? That you can cut out the bruise in the apple and that the rest is fine to eat? That overripe fruit can still make excellent smoothies with a bit of yogurt?

We as food industry have indulged the consumers too much. Next to reading the ‘best before’ date we should let them use common sense to determine if something is edible or not. We should prevent perfectly edible food being thrown away. So, if you want advice on improving the quality of your product, or prolonging the shelf life, get in touch with us at .

Bertine Smit
food microbiologist