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Thursday 13 August 2020

Fresh... last year

Is the 'fresh' food on our shelves really is all that fresh?

Advocate Olaf Blakeley raises the question in his latest column...

"I don’t like to be misled or be deceived by appearances.

That’s odd, and slightly hypocritical, coming from a person who, before a career in law, from the age of 15 was a professional stage magician and illusionist, and who enjoyed nothing more than leading his audience into a world of illusion, smoke and mirrors.

As humans we make hundreds if not thousands of decisions every day. We form just as many opinions. We make those decisions and reach those views based upon a set of facts as we believe them to be. Of course, sometimes we can’t establish facts ourselves and, accordingly, have to rely on others to inform us so we can then make decisions.

But, I’m getting just a little fed up of being fed incorrect or misleading facts. Is what is reported in the news really true? If it is true, am I getting the full picture, or is what I am digesting misleading by being selective?


Pictured: There appears to be no law in place to tell customers on packaging when fruit and vegetables have been harvested.

During lockdown I was puzzled because the massive disruptions didn’t seem to affect the arrival of avocados on the supermarket shelves; nor did it dry up the supply of lemon sole or Granny Smith’s. I wondered why, and embarked on a trail of enquiry. It was carrying out that exercise that caused me to discover some facts of which - until then - I was totally ignorant: the age of ‘fresh’ food on our shelves.

I was horrified to find out that ‘fresh fish’ sold at supermarkets may be two years old. I was flabbergasted to discover ‘fresh’ apples could be a year old. Tomatoes, peaches, potatoes, bananas …all the same: much older than any reasonable person would consider ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables to be. Did you know, that sea bass fillet you buy in supermarket packaging in the chilled section which gives the appearance of being fresh may have been frozen and thawed out for the shelf?


Pictured: UK law has recently changed, and now requires sellers to disclose if a fish has been frozen and then defrosted for sale.

Did you know the same was true of fish sold at some supermarkets at the ‘fresh’ fishmonger area? Well, recently, the law in the UK has changed. If fish has been frozen but then defrosted for sale, those circumstances must be disclosed. Test it: go into Marks and Spencer and pick up a packet of sea bass fillets and read the back. It will tell you it was, or may have been, frozen previously.

However, it appears there is nothing which requires packaging or signage to tell the customer the date when fruit or vegetables were harvested. To me, that is appalling. Until I discovered the potential age of fruit I simply presumed what I was seeing in the supermarket was ‘fresh’.

I will be the first to accept no-one told me it was fresh. I admit I formed that opinion myself and I accept I simply assumed. But to be fair, I reached that conclusion because I consider it was a reasonable conclusion to reach. I also accept, if someone pressed me with questions, my assumption would be laid bare: “how fresh did you consider it to be?”


Pictured: There are calls for supermarkets to have more transparency in regards to how fresh their produce is. 

Yes, I knew the pineapple could not have been picked that morning. I was aware it was picked in a foreign location, packed, shipped and then displayed. The same is true in respect of the apples. But nothing…nothing would have ever led me to conclude apples may have been picked a year ago.

The real point behind all of what I say is that I simply do not know now the age of fruit or veg I am buying. Look, all supermarkets in Jersey could be selling produce as fresh as it possibly could be. The same may be true of supermarkets in the UK. From what I have researched, this is not the case.

However, I believe as a consumer I have the right to know when the fruit or veg was picked, plucked or dug-up. The time has come for transparency. The legislature should introduce law to ensure the customer can find out the age of the produce he or she is consuming.


Pictured: Some 'fresh' fruit sold in shops could in fact be up to a year old.

I realise this submission by me is not because I have always wanted to know the age of produce. I don’t actually care if a banana is a week old or two. What I do care about is the illusion of produce being ‘fresh’. They way produce is displayed, marketed and presented reasonably leads people to assume freshness.

Why wouldn’t anyone reach that assumption? I haven’t researched the point but I am sure ‘fresh’ is defined in some law somewhere as being produce which is not frozen or dried or pickled etc. I am sure large supermarket chains are operating within the law. But that is the point: legislation is needed so that unless the ‘true’ facts are disclosed to the shopper, or an offence would be committed.

Right, I’m off to enjoy a nine-month-old banana."

This article first appeared in Connect Magazine, which you can read in full by clicking HERE.

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