DEFRA Scraps ‘Sell-By’ Dates To Cut Food Waste

by | Sep 15, 2011

U.K. agency DEFRA has released updated guidance to help ensure the right date marks are used on food labels, to make it easier for shoppers to know when food is safe to eat.

DEFRA, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, wants retailers to ditch “sell-by” and “display-until” labels used for stock rotation, to avoid confusion for shoppers. Under the guidance, food packaging should only carry either a “use-by” or “best-before” date.

“We want to end the food labelling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat. This simpler and safer date labelling guide will help households cut down on the £12 billion worth of good food that ends up in the bin,” said UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

The guidance for food producers outlines that “use-by” labels should only be used where the food could be unsafe after that date.  Most other foods should have a “best-before” date only, to indicate when the food is no longer at its best, but is still safe to eat.

The guidance is also designed so the food industry can develop more detailed advice for specific products, to minimise confusion and food waste while keeping food safe.

Foods likely to require a “use-by” date include soft cheese, ready-prepared meals and smoked fish. Food likely to require only a “best-before” date include cookies, jams, pickles, potato chips and canned foods.

The guidance was produced in consultation with the food manufacturers, supermarkets, trade associations, consumer groups, food law enforcement bodies and Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

At least 60% of the 8.3 million tonnes of UK household food and drink waste is avoidable, DEFRA says. That is 5.3 million tonnes of perfectly edible food per year – the equivalent of £680 per household with children.  WRAP research has identified confusion over date labelling as one of the causes of this.

The UK’s Food and Drink Federation welcomed the guidelines as a new tool to help cut waste, but also called for more education for customers, BusinessGreen reports.

“FDF fully supports the continued use of ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ date marking, as these provide very valuable information for consumers on product safety and quality, and we encourage our members to apply best practice when deciding on the most appropriate labelling for a specific product,” said Barbara Gallani, FDF director of food safety and science.

“However, as research from WRAP suggests, shoppers are still confused by the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before,’ meaning that there is a significant challenge around consumer understanding.”

Last month, trade bodies the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute released details of a three-year initiative aimed at helping their industry reduce food waste.

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