Monday, February 25, 2013

Death By Canned Fish

Well, maybe not death, but canned fish years past its "best before" date is regularly being sold to Canadians.
Kathy Tomlinson of CBC reports on the problem:

As she points out, there's no proof that eating the food will make you sick--but there's no way to tell if three year past date shrimp is safe to eat, either.

Bruce Cran of the Consumer's Ass'n of Canada via CBC TV

The major grocery chains are being offered discounts on canned fish that's well past date, and are passing that fish on to consumers--though not at a discount. The stale-dated cans are simply mixed in with the others on the shelves.
Of course, this federal government has no interest in regulating this behaviour--as Bruce Cran (above) asks; "Why then even have the dates?" And that is a sentiment this government can get behind. No regulation is better than regulation. But the role of the CFIA (Canada Food Inspection Agency) is a bit blurry here as well. Why don't we know how long a period preserved food is edible?
The use of sell-by dates has never had a clear reason behind it. We're told that it merely indicates the period during which the food is at its preserved peak. Consumers treat it as a preservation expiry date (which is what we really want). Retailers apparently treat it as optional.
I'm lucky. Here on the coast, I can get access to fresh fish in season. But my kids, living on the prairies, seldom have that option--and certainly not at an affordable price. So how do we ensure reasonable quality, high safety, and an affordable price? I would suggest dropping the "best before" date entirely, and instead dating food with both a "packaged on" and  "don't sell after" date. And that latter date should be the point after which spoilage becomes a concern. That at least gives us information that both makes sense and that we can use to make an informed decision.

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