Standard 'consume by' guidelines hitting expiry date?

Last Tuesday's report ("Food waste: E-book's food for thought") states that food waste is a major concern in Singapore, with 790,000 tonnes generated last year.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has also published last year's statistics, saying "the amount of solid waste generated in 2015 increased to 7.67 million tonnes, up by 159,000 tonnes from 7.51 million tonnes in 2014".

The NEA should review its "consume by" time-stamping guidelines for cooked food, with respect to food waste. While I agree that we cannot allow vendors to sell food which is not fit for consumption, it is also important not to over-regulate and lead to wastage.

I have heard reports of catered food that had to be discarded because meetings dragged on longer than expected. Buffet vendors also no longer provide plastic container for patrons to take home excess food.

Yet at food courts, hawker centres and coffee shops, we do not have signs telling patrons the "consume by" time for meals. We eat at our own risk and are none the worse for it. I am sure few vendors diligently discard unsold food four hours from preparation time.

Different types of food and how they are cooked determine the rate of decay. It will be tedious and impractical for the NEA to mandate different "consume by" times but, knowing that there are varied factors contributing to food degradation, perhaps the NEA can devise a better guideline than impose the four-hour limit across the board.

The other area worth reviewing is the expiry date of packaged foodstuffs.

With improved food manufacturing processes and efficient logistics, we can be sure that food created at source has hit the shelves with proper controls. It makes a strong case for expiry dates to be extended as long as safety standards are met.

Tay Kian Tiong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Standard 'consume by' guidelines hitting expiry date?'. Print Edition | Subscribe