Check for proper seal and packaging before buying specials (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Hi Everyone,

Have you ever been in to a supermarket and noticed a round bright fluorescent orange sticker stamped on various packaged food items? Would you buy the item(s) on sale? No? Why not?

Whilst on a recent shopping trip here (in Barbados) at one of the chain supermarkets that can be found across the region, I happened to be standing next to a woman at the gourmet cheese section. She was inspecting packages of goat cheese that were red dot specials and I was getting a wedge of Roquefort (which unfortunately I have never seen as a red dot special because it is always in demand). I could sense the woman’s hesitation at getting the red dot special goat cheese – she kept picking it up, putting it down while whispering the use by date under her breath. I looked at her and we smiled, then she said, “I don’t know if to get this cheese, because it says use by (she gave the date), that’s tomorrow. What do you think?” “Get it,” I told her. “That cheese will be just as good next week.”

All of the items you see with a red dot label carry one of the following dates on their packaging: use by date, sell by date or display until date. These dates can be very confusing for us consumers. Do you know what do they mean? The use by date says that the product is fresh, and safe to consume up until the date on the label, beyond that date, there may be some deterioration of the product in look/appearance, nutritional value or a standard set by the food authorities for such items with regard to public health and safety. The sell by and display dates have nothing to do with food safety; both dates were introduced by supermarkets and manufacturers to rotate stock and indicate quality. These are the dates by which supermarkets determine their specials. Is it safe to buy red dot special items then? Yes. Should you? Yes, if you apply some old-fashioned common sense to choosing your food, and if you want to save a few dollars too…..