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Jac Roper explores best-before and use-by dates, and epos problems

09 June, 2011
Page 16 

Enter the inspectors

When the weather cheered up I had two calls from retailers about food that might be about to go off.

One had had a visit from Trading Standards and one from environmental healthmore about these later.

It's been warm (hooray, good for business unless you are in farming). Have to look at the hazards though. Best-before dates have been discussed a bit lately. It's looking more and more likely that these could be binned since they are thought, even by government, to confuse shoppers and to contribute to Britain's food mountain.

Best before, of course, is different to 'use by' but even that came under discussion last year when some food manufacturers decided to remove dates on certain products to help reduce the 10bn amount of food dumped in bins every year. At that point a bread manufacturer ditched its use-by date and some brands of yogurt and cheeses were likely to follow suit. You see, even with use-bys, which are only put on perishable products, food can often be safely eaten after the printed date. If you are a cheese lover, think about it. You take the brie or cheddar out of the fridge and warm it upthen keep it for days and days. If the cheddar goes mouldy, well, cut off that bit and it still tastes good. And some cheeses are only good when they have been nurtured to mouldy.

In the States butter has around a six months best-before whereas in this country it's more like six weeks. It's to do with image.

We apparently throw away 1.6m bananas a year. My other half likes the speckled, brownish, softish ones (so he gets lots and seems quite healthy on them).

However, I'm not suggesting you try to sell this type. Again, if you want a fresh image

Now on to Trading Standards' officers (TSOs) and Environmental Health officers (EHOs). The retailers in question don't want to be identified. One involved 'foreign' stock and the other had been reported by a member of the public who had seen rodents around the bins out the back of the store. (I've seen loads in the low hedges in my local Tesco's car park. Landscaping probably wasn't the best idea but anyway, I'm not fussed, I only go there for a certain brand of ale for the banana-eater.)

The store fortunately, stood up to inspection. I recommended that the retailer goes on a pest control contract. They don't cost much and nothing like what a fine might cost.

The EHO had recommended the same. TSOs and EHOs have the right to enter and inspect premises at all reasonable hours (in fact over 300 different kinds of inspections have that right). They do not have to make an appointment and will usually come without advance notice. Inspections can be routine or in response to a complaint. They then 'rate' you so you may wind up with frequent visits or rare ones. You mustn't obstruct them and they can take samples, photographs and inspect records (risk assessments, temperature controls on your chillers, refusals book and so on). For an imminent health risk they can serve an emergency prohibition notice, banning you from trading.

Trading Standards are in charge of labels. There can certainly be 'foreign' on the label but certain bits must be in English list of ingredients, who made it, quantity contained and any pertinent warnings like, 'contains nuts'. Simples really.

Just where is the back-up?

It has come to my attention that quite a few forecourt dealers may be having huge problems with their epos systems. It would appear that polling is the main problem and some have resorted to installing other systems, such as Streamline, alongside which is very costly. Someone who deals with a number of dealers and is attempting to tackle the problem from within the industry, tells me that when the systems go wrong, they go wrong big time. And, in the aforementioned case, the system goes down practically daily and it is taking up a huge amount of the retailer's time that clearly could be better spent elsewhere.

In some of the rural parts of the country the situation is worsened by poor broadband coverage as the signals are having to travel over telephone lines that are 60-70 years old. The service providers don't seem to be offering the sort of back-up required when the system goes down.

"There is a lack of acknowledgement and a lack of commitment to putting it right," my insider told me. "There is too much ducking and diving."

You will have noticed the complete lack of names here, and there is a good reason for that. It is suspected that some retailers don't realise that the problem is more widespread and 'not just them'.

As in the piece I wrote about the sub-postmaster's accounting system Horizon, my caller did not realise that there were hundreds of others in the same dire situation.

So, if this sounds familiar, get in touch (and it isn't the post office system this time).

Busy greasing their palms

There's a new activity in America which has the catchy title of deep-fat fryer grease rustling.

Apparently the rustlers hang around the backs of restaurants, lasso (well, spoon off) the grease and then sell it on to recycling companies which pay around 18 cents a pound for the stuff considered to be a good price and which turn it into biofuel.

You know what they say, these trends from the States eventually migrate to our shores!