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Shopper Confused By Expiry Date In Ancient Calendar Format

A man was left confounded by an expiry date stamped a burger packet after it accidentally presented the Julian date -- an ancient, arcane calendar proposed by Julius Caesar.

British man Matthew Stock purchased a packet of beef burgers with buns, cheese slices, and a sachet of relish from UK supermarket chain Tesco.

He was left confused when the expiry date read '20140', which doesn't correspond to any date we're familiar with.

"Hello there Tesco, could you please explain this expiry date please?" he tweeted.

tesco expiry date
The Tesco burger relish in question. Photo: Twitter.

"If I'm honest Matthew, I have no idea," replied Tesco's customer rep Sharon.

"2nd of January 2040?" she suggested.

She asked for the bar-code and promised to check with the support team.

When the answer later arrived, it was from a different representative: Maggie.

"Hi Matthew, I've had a response from my support team," Maggie said.

"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." (Note: it's actually May 19th, as 2020 is a leap year.)

The Julian calendar was proposed by Roman emperor Julius Caesar in around 45 BC. It was used through parts of Europe until the 1500s, when the now-common Gregorian calendar -- which we use today -- became better used. So you could imagine Matthew's surprise when he heard that his burger set had been stamped with the outdated date format.

In this case, his burger set is set to expire in 2020, on the 140th day of the Julian calendar -- 20140.

"Okay Maggie. Are you serious?" Matthew responded. "Surely that's not a legitimate way of dating products?"

Maggie said she "fully agree[d]" with the confused customer, and said if she'd received it herself, she wouldn't have understood it, either.

As it turned out, the Julian date was due to an internal issue from Tesco's supplier. The Julian calendar, which is solar-based, is primarily used these days in software (and astronomers) for easily calculating elapsed dates between two events -- such as a food production date and sell by date.

READ MORE: A Man Died After Eating Pasta Left On The Kitchen Bench For Five Days

According to a Tesco spokesperson, the standard best before date is usually printed on the outside of the main packaging, but somehow missed this one.

"We're sorry if any of our customers got in a pickle about this and we have relished the chance to put the record straight," the spokesperson told the BBC.

"All good manufacturers are legally required to stamp a best before or a use-by date on their products."

Food Standards Australian New Zealand stipulate that all food must either have a use by date or a best before date.

Foods that must be eaten by a certain date (or else carry health and safety risks) have a 'use by date', after which point it becomes illegal to sell. Other foods use a 'best before' date, after which they can still be eaten, but may have lost some quality.

READ MORE: A Guide To Avoiding Food Poisoning

Eating food after its use by date carries a risk of food poisoning, most commonly from Salmonella or Listeria. Last year was a "horror year" for food poisoning, according to Food Safety Information Council Chair Rachelle Williams, leading to six deaths and a woman miscarrying.