Millions of dollars in food that is possibly still edible is being dumped in Barbados every year once the ‘Best By’, ‘Best Before’ or ‘Use By’ dates have been reached.
And the reason for this is because the country does not have the necessary sanitary and phytosanitary laboratories to do the required tests in order to determine how much longer the products could be allowed to stay on supermarket shelves.
The ‘best before’ date usually refers to the date that the goods are still of a certain quality. When this date is passed, it does not necessarily mean that the food is no longer usable, but that is when it starts to lose its flavour and, in some cases, texture.
Most manufacturers do not put both ‘best before’ date and expiry date on their products.
But some local retailers have been complaining that shoppers often consider the products “expired” and no longer fit for consumption once they realized that the ‘best before’ date has passed, even by a day or two.
Commerce Minister Dwight Sutherland made the revelation on Wednesday, following a tour of the locally-owned big-box store, Shopsmart on Cheapside, Bridgetown.
“We have been dumping a lot of goods as a result of two things we see listed on goods and we have to be careful how we treat with this. We have something called the ‘Best Before’ date for items and then we have the ‘Expiry Date’. The best before date speaks to the fact that at that date the item can still be used, possibly, but once that date comes it is taken off the shelf,” said Sutherland.
Sutherland said once that lab is built the Barbados National Standards Institute (BNSI) and the Ministry of Agriculture will be able to do the necessary testing in order to allow the wholesalers and supermarket owners to keep the goods that have passed ‘best by’ dates a while longer on their shelves.
“Having said that, it is a delicate balance we have to maintain because we can’t keep a good that’s marked “BBD: Dec 19”, into January. That is not what we want, but we want to reduce wastage as it relates to goods. I think that would do well for the retail sector,” he said.
Asking retail operators to “bear with Government”, Sutherland could not say exactly when a lab would be built, but pointed out that Government was currently in a financially “tight” situation and building such a lab could cost upwards of $50 million.
“Some time in the future we will be in a position to build that lab,” he promised.
“If we had the sanitary and phytosanitary lab so we can test the quality of the goods to determine how long we can carry them on the shelf with the best before date, then that would minimize the millions of dollars in goods that we dump in this country annually with a best before date,” he said, adding that the dumping was done “in a controlled way”.
Some supermarkets often put some items on sale when the ‘best before ‘date is approaching, a practice that Sutherland said he welcomed.
The absence of a sanitary and phytosanitary laboratory here has also been a hindrance to some companies being able to export some products to certain countries.
Commenting on recalls of items, several of which have taken place this year alone, Sutherland said he was “satisfied” that the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and the BNSI were “on the ball”.