Frequently asked questions on food safety

During a Flavour project webinar on food safety, attendees asked questions about food safety relating to; dairy products, expiry dates, traceability, inspections, and regulations.

Here are the answers provided by the Dutch Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FAVV), the Flavour project and FoodSavers Ghent, a distribution platform in Ghent.  


Is it safe to give dairy products to children?  

Answer by FAVV: Dairy products do not pose any problems for children, unless they are allergic to them. Cow’s milk allergy is an allergy that often occurs in young children.  

With all dairy products it is important that temperatures are measured throughout the cold chain process.  Temperatures are important for dairy products that have to be kept in the fridge, such as cheese and yoghurt. 

If you have any doubts about the product or how it is kept – use your senses (smell and vision) to work out if the product is safe. If you are in any doubt, do not use it.  


How should I explain the best before date to our customers? Some people are reluctant to eat food after its best before date.  

Answer by FAVV:  It is important to be clear if we are looking at a best before date or a use by date. If something is past its use by date, then the food has to be thrown away. Do not distribute that to anybody, even to animals. You cannot use it after the date.  

For products with a ‘best before’ date – these can be distributed and eaten after the date shown. The ‘best before’ date mainly relates to the quality of the product. The manufacturer guarantees the quality of the product, in terms of smell, colour, taste, crunchiness, etc. until that date. After that date, the quality can deteriorate, but this is not harmful.  

Helping people to understand this can be difficult. One thing you could do is draw up a document to explain this and give this to your customers.  You can find examples here


But it is not only a rational fact, a matter of “knowing”. Especially for people living in poverty, it is often an emotional fact as well. The link is often made: because we live in poverty we are being given less good food and we don’t want it. 

Answer by Flavour: Distribution platforms that distribute food to people in poverty often choose not to distribute food that has passed its best before date. Precisely because people in poverty are often already dealing with exclusion in various areas, they want to avoid feeling undervalued again. The social aspect then takes precedence over the ecological one.  

One way of dealing with this is to let people themselves choose whether or not to take the food that is past its best before date. In solidarity shops, where regular prices are charged to customers who can afford them, this food past the best before date is sometimes also offered and there is less of a problem because it is offered to every customer.  


What about food that does not have a date, such as fresh food?   

Answer by Foodsavers Ghent: The best thing to do is use your senses to see if the food is okay. Consider if it smells and looks okay. Ask yourself ‘would I eat it?’. If you would, it is likely that it is okay to share the food with others. But if you would not it eat, it is best to throw it away. It is important to always be proud of the food that you give to others.  


If I freeze meat or fish on its expiry date, how long can I keep it in the freezer?   

Answer by FAVV: We recommend a maximum of two months.  


In terms of traceability; Should the lot number always be written down when opening a new pack?  

Answer by FAVV: That is not a legal obligation. Of course, it can be an added value if one does so, but it is not compulsory. 

Answer by Flavour: As far as traceability is concerned, the social organisation which redistributes food should only record where the food surpluses comes from and the date.   


What are the common problems inspectors see when they visit food distribution organisations?

Answer by FAVV: 

  • Distribution of products past their ‘best before date’
  • Storage temperatures are not adhered to 
  • Staff members do not know enough about food safety  
  • Products not labelled or labelled incorrectly  
  • Preparation of products in a different place (e.g. at employees’ homes) than where they are distributed. 

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