Supermarket’s baffling best-before date

A British supermarket chain has found itself in a baffling best-before date conundrum that could only be solved by referring to a little-used calendar system invented in 45BC.

A confused customer contacted UK grocer Tesco on Tuesday due to purportedly being perplexed by the printed information on a packet of relish.

Matthew Storck had purchased a packet of Tesco brand burgers that came with buns, cheese slices and relish.

The pouch of said relish relayed information on the allergens in the rich tomato sauce, its batch code and the best-before date. This is where his beef with Tesco began.

The date, Mr Storck noted, made no sense. It said “20140”. It seemed to have at least one digit missing. Even if the final number had somehow rubbed away, it’s been a decade since a year began with a zero. And months only go as high as 12, not 14.

“Hello there Tesco, could you please explain this expiry date please?” Mr Storck tweeted to the chain.

Initially, Sharon from Tesco replied. She didn’t mince her words. She was stumped.

“If I’m honest Matthew, I have no idea. 2nd of January 2040?” she helpfully suggested — which would be a long time for some relish bought in 2019 to remain fresh.

Sharon said she’d look into the matter of the dizzying date.

The next day Maggie from Tesco got back in touch with Mr Storck, presumably because Sharon’s brain had exploded. Either that or she had a day off.

Maggie’s explanation was utterly bizarre, however. For some reason, the relish’s manufacturers has decided to use a completely separate date system to, well, just about everyone.

“Hi Matthew, I have had a response from my support team,” typed Maggie, chirpily.

“They have advised the date code on the relish only is the Julian date. 20140 is the 140th day. This translated into the Gregorian calendar is the 20th May 2020. Thanks — Maggie.”

Say what?

If Mr Storck wasn’t confused at the beginning of his best-before burger adventure, he was baffled now.

“Okay Maggie. Are you serious? Surely that’s not a legitimate way of dating products?” he wrote.

Maggie was on his side: “Hi Matthew, I fully agree with you. If I had received this myself I wouldn’t have known what this meant.”

So what is the Julian calendar?

It was invented in the first century and was a reform to the Roman calendar proposed by Emperor Julius Caesar.

It’s actually not all that dissimilar to the calendar we use today, with the same months and number of days in each month.

But, many centuries later, the Catholic Church worked out the calendar had miscalculated the length in the year by 11 minutes. So, every year the calendar was slowly getting out of synch with the seasons. And, more importantly for the church, Easter was out of kilter with the spring equinox.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII adjusted the Julian calendar and created the Gregorian calendar that lengthened each year. While the Julian version is still used by some orthodox churches, the Gregorian calendar is the majority date system used in the world today.

Adding to the Julian confusion is that dates are displayed very differently to Gregorian dates. They are five, not six, digits long, and months are omitted.

The first two digits are the year and the final three are the number of dates since New Year.

Maggie was right — 20140 stands for the year 2020 and 140 days into that year — which is May.

Predictably, Twitter went into meltdown over the mince malarky.

“I’d like to imagine Sharon took one look at this information and said ‘nope, I’m out’, so Maggie was forced to pick up this madness,” said Philip Aldous.

Some posted images of Egyptian hieroglyphics and asked if Tesco could also decipher them.

Others were more direct: “Just eat the relish, Matthew.”

Tesco, for its part, announced it would extend a discount on beef burgers and relish until “19188”.

Currently, the Julian calendar is 11 days behind its bigger Gregorian brother. So as far as the spirit of Julius Caesar is concerned, it’s currently June 15, 2019. Relish the thought.