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Cooking Beyond 'Best Before': Reducing Food Waste, Saving Money, and Protecting the Planet

18 Oct 2023

“OMG the Best Before Date of these canned tomatoes was yesterday, we can’t use that anymore”.
“I am throwing away this bread, it’s stale”.
“Ayo, this banana turned a little bit black, to the bin it goes”.

Picture this: You open your pantry and find a can of tomatoes with yesterday's Best Before date, a loaf of bread starting to feel a bit stale, and a banana that's turned slightly black. What do you do? For many of us, the instinct is to toss these items in the trash, contributing to the staggering 279 kg of food wasted every minute in Mauritius. That's equivalent to 1,120 meals, gone to waste. But what if we told you that there's a way to make the most of these ingredients, not only reducing food waste but also saving money and helping the planet?

Understanding Best Before Date vs. Expiry Date

Before we dive into the solutions, let's clarify the difference between the Best Before Date and the Expiry Date. The Best Before Date is when the quality of the food product might start to degrade but it can still be safe to eat, while the Expiry Date signifies when a food product is no longer safe to consume. Armed with this knowledge, let’s explore how we, in Mauritius, can step up by cooking with ingredients past their Best Before Dates, taking inspiration from global initiatives.

International Achievements in Reducing Food Waste

Across the globe, individuals, organisations, and even entire nations have made significant strides in reducing food waste and saving money while eating well and healthy. Here are a few examples:


  • The United Kingdom's "Love Food Hate Waste" Campaign:

The UK has been at the forefront of the fight against food waste with its "Love Food Hate Waste" campaign. This initiative provides practical tips, recipes, and resources to help citizens make the most of their food, even if it's nearing or past its Best Before Date. The campaign encouraged creative cooking and meal planning, enabling people to reduce waste and save money.


  • France's Anti-Food Waste Laws:

France has taken a pioneering stance against food waste with stringent anti-food waste laws. Supermarkets are now banned from throwing away unsold food and are required to donate it to charities and food banks. This move has not reduced waste and helped feed those in need.


  • Italy's Culinary Tradition:

In Italy, the culture of cooking beyond Best Before dates is deeply ingrained. Italians are renowned for their creative use of ingredients, turning leftovers into delightful dishes. For example, yesterday's bread becomes bruschetta or panzanella, and overripe tomatoes become sauces or soups.


  • The "Nose-to-Tail" Movement:

The culinary world has embraced the "nose-to-tail" philosophy, which encourages using all parts of an animal in cooking. Renowned chefs worldwide have embraced this philosophy, reducing their meat waste and promoting sustainable dining.


  • International Food Banks:

Globally, food banks and similar organisations rescue and redistribute surplus food, including items close to their Best Before dates. These efforts have not only helped reduce food waste but also alleviated hunger and food insecurity for millions of people.


  • Home Cooks and Food Bloggers:

Individuals worldwide have joined the movement, sharing creative recipes and tips for using ingredients past their prime. Food bloggers and home cooks have played a vital role in spreading awareness and inspiring others to make the most of their food.


Embracing Cooking with Food Products Past Their Best Days in Mauritius

Now, let's explore how we, in Mauritius, can embrace cooking with ingredients past their best-before dates. We've curated some recipe ideas to help you make the most of these ingredients while reducing food waste.

  • Overripe Fruits:

Have you ever come across a forgotten bunch of overly ripe bananas or a softening stash of oranges in your kitchen? Instead of tossing them out, Turn forgotten overripe fruits into delightful creations like smoothies, baked goods, and fruit compote.

Smoothies: Overripe fruits add natural sweetness and flavour to smoothies. Blend them with yoghurt, milk, and a handful of ice for a refreshing and nutritious treat.
Baking: Incorporate overripe bananas into banana bread, muffins, or pancakes. Their mushy texture and intense sweetness make them ideal for baking.
Fruit Compote: Simmer overripe fruits with a bit of sugar and water to create a delicious compote. Serve it over yoghurt, ice cream, or oatmeal.

  • Stale Bread:

Don't let stale bread go to waste. Transform it into croutons, breadcrumbs, or a hearty panzanella salad.

Croutons: Cube stale bread, toss it with olive oil and your favourite seasonings, and bake until crispy. These croutons make a great addition to salads and soups.
Breadcrumbs: Grind stale bread into breadcrumbs using a food processor. Use them for cutlets, coating meats, cheesecake or as a crunchy topping for gratin.
Panzanella Salad: Turn stale bread into a hearty Italian Panzanella salad. Mix it with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and a tangy vinaigrette.

  • Aging Dairy Products:

Get creative with ageing dairy products by using them in smooth and creamy sauces or as a delightful addition to various dishes.

Smooth and Creamy Sauces: Expired sour cream or yoghurt can be the base for creamy pasta sauces or salad dressings. Simply blend with your preferred herbs and seasonings.

Cheese Delights: Hard cheeses like cheddar, gouda, and Emmental, can often be saved by trimming away any mold or hardened areas. Grate or slice them for use in omelettes, sandwiches, or as a topping for baked dishes.

  • Near-Expired Vegetables:

Use slightly wilted vegetables to whip up some hearty dishes, like comforting soups, stews, or stir-fries.

Soups and Stews: Wilted or slightly limp vegetables can be transformed into comforting soups and stews. Simply chop them up and simmer them in broth with your choice of protein and seasonings.
Stir-Fries: Give your veggies a new lease on life by stir-frying them with some protein and your favourite sauce. The high heat will revive their flavours.

  • Canned Goods:

Incorporate canned beans, tomatoes, or vegetables into dishes like chilli or casseroles for a convenient and delicious meal.

Chilli: Canned beans and tomatoes are essential ingredients for a delicious chilli. Add spices, ground meat or plant-based alternatives, and let it simmer for a flavorful meal.

Casseroles: Create comforting casseroles like lasagna or gratin by layering canned vegetables, proteins, and grains with some cheese and seasoning.

How can you tell if your food is still good to eat?

Now that we’ve learnt about some recipe ideas with products past Best Before dates, we will go over some tips to assess the quality of ingredients before using them in your recipes.


  1. Visual Inspection: What Meets the Eye

Let's say you're about to prepare a salad, and before you lies a head of lettuce. Take a moment to study its leaves closely. Are they showing signs of wilting, sporting browning edges, or harbouring sneaky, slimy spots? If you spot any of these signs, it's wise to excise those portions or in more severe cases, bid farewell to the entire head.


  1. Smell Check: The Power of Aroma

You're planning to make a stir-fry, and you've pulled out a container of ginger from your pantry? Give it a sniff. Fresh ginger has a strong, spicy aroma. However, should you detect any hints of moldiness or a musty air, it's a resounding call to action – time to usher in a new batch of this aromatic wonder.


  1. Texture Test: Feeling the Difference

Envision crafting a rich tomato sauce that will soon grace your pasta. When you open the can, scoop out a few tomatoes, and give them a gentle squeeze. If they feel overly mushy or have an odd texture, they may not be suitable for your sauce. Fresh tomatoes respond with a firm and reassuring touch. However, if your fingers encounter an excessive softness or a peculiar texture, these tomatoes may not be the ideal companions for your sauce.


  1. Taste Sampling: A Tiny Bite

You're preparing a fruit salad, and you've got a pear that's been in your fruit bowl for a while. Take a small bite. If it tastes mealy or overly mushy, it's past its prime. A fresh pear should be crisp and juicy. If it’s not, it's a gentle reminder that it has gracefully traversed beyond its prime.


  1. Check the Expiration Date: Use-by Wisdom

You're planning to make a sandwich, and you've pulled out a jar of mayonnaise? Check the date. If it's well past the date and the mayo looks or smells off, it's time to replace it. Fresh mayo is a testament to its creamy consistency and neutral aroma.


  1. Assess Storage Conditions: Where Has It Been?

You're making a pasta dish, and you've grabbed a bag of spaghetti from your pantry. Inspect the packaging for any tears or punctures. A compromised package may have invited unwanted guests like contamination or moisture, which can alter the destiny of your pasta.


  1. Trust Your Senses: Common Sense Matters

You're making a curry, and you've got some leftover chicken in the fridge. Give it a good look and sniff. If it seems fine but you're still unsure, try a small piece. If the chicken passes all tests but tastes slightly different from when it was fresh, it's still safe to use in a cooked dish where the flavour will be masked by other ingredients.


We all place high value on food safety, and rightly so. When in doubt about an ingredient's quality, it's better to be safe than sorry and choose a fresher replacement. Nevertheless, in your journey to reduce food waste and embrace the art of cooking with ingredients past their prime, let your senses be your guide.


So, as you embark on your own culinary adventures, remember the power of your senses and the potential within every ingredient. By valuing your past Best Before products, you're not only creating meals that tantalise the taste buds but also making a significant difference. You're reducing food waste, protecting our precious planet, and saving money, one dish at a time!