On September 15th 2011, the Food Standards Agency and Defra (the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) published new guidance on food packaging and labelling. Specifically it relates to the use of ‘use by’, ‘best before’, ‘sell by’ and ‘display until’ date markings on food.

It is suggested that confusion over these different dates is one of the leading factors in the UK’s £12bn food wastage.

Here’s a breakdown of what they mean:

  • ‘Use by’ – this relates to food safety.  Consuming the food after this date may be unsafe and it is illegal for retailers to sell produce after it has gone past its use by date
  • ‘Best before’ – this relates to the quality of the produce. Eating the food after its best before date may mean that it doesn’t taste as nice or it might not look as appetising.  However, there is no an immediate health risk from eating this food
  • ‘Display until’ – this is the date the retailer wishes to remove this product from display and is used for stock control
  • ‘Sell by’ – this is very similar to ‘display until’

It’s easy to see why shoppers get confused.  With the many different dates, some consumers misinterpret the dates and throw away food earlier than needed.

Throwing away food on its ‘display until’ or ‘sell by’ date would mean safe food without any drop in quality would be wasted.  Likewise, throwing away food on its ‘best before’ date often means food that is perfectly safe to eat is wasted.

The exception to this rule is eggs.  Eggs should not be eaten after their ‘best before’ date as there is a risk of salmonella food poisoning.

Under the new guidelines, it is suggested that the use of ‘display until’ and ‘sell by’ dates be removed and that retailers utilise other stock control methods.  Likewise, that there is a clearer distinction between which products should have a ‘use by’ date and which would use a ‘best before’ date.

For example, fish, ready meals and many dairy products would have a ‘use by’ date.  Whilst tinned food, cakes and biscuits would only require a ‘best before’ date.

What does this mean for current food retailers and producers? It might mean a huge waste in stock if they cannot re-label it.  However, they can also utilise a contract-based over labelling service which would use industrial labelling machines to print over the current labels with any new or updated information the packaging requires.

Do you think this will have an impact on your food waste?