'Christmas cupcakes' have sell-by date of tomorrow

Make sure you don't get caught out

Marks & Spencer mince pies with an October sell-by date

If you're planning on stocking up early for Christmas, keep your eyes peeled: supermarkets are selling festive treats with best-before dates as early as tomorrow.

It's a common complaint that Christmas starts earlier every year, and for some people it will be annoyance enough to spot items such as mince pies on the supermarket shelves.

But for anybody planning to get ahead with their food shopping, or spread the cost by buying early, things could be worse - you could be wasting your money.

Sharp-eyed shopper Naomi Dooner, for example, has spotted 'Christmas cupcakes' in Asda with a sell-by date of tomorrow - more than two months before Christmas itself.

Meanwhile, several stores are selling Mr Kipling Festive Bakewells with a best before date of 20th October.

Morrisons has Christmas cake slices on its shelves with a best-before date of 25th November; and Marks & Spencer is already selling Christmas Mince Pies - with a best before date of October 23rd.

Other examples include mince pies in Aldi - best before 21st November - and in Sainsbury's, best before the 16th. Even swanky Selfridges is guilty, with one shopper finding mince pies back in August with a best-before date of the 17th.

Some customers are complaining on the stores' websites. However, others are perfectly happy.

"My wife complains that the best-before date is before Christmas so you have to eat them and buy more. Why is this a bad thing?" tweets one.

Of course, many of these items will be perfectly safe to eat long after the best-before date has passed. While use-by dates are based on food safety, best-before dates are a matter of quality - so the food may be stale, but it won't kill you.

Meanwhile, sell-by dates are for the retailers' benefit, to tell them when to stop displaying stock; and they take account of the fact that food's likely to sit in shoppers' fridges for a few days after that date.

All the same, few of these products are likely to be at their tastiest two months after their sell-by date - so if you're planning to save your mince pies for the day itself, make sure you check the date on the pack.

Christmas cards with a difference

Christmas cards with a difference