Scrap food sell-by dates, government urges manufacturers


Richard Taylor from Morrisons on what the changes will mean

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Sell-by dates should be removed from food packaging to help cut waste and save shoppers money, ministers say.

The UK throws away about £12bn of edible food each year and critics say confusing packaging is partly to blame.

New government advice says firms should include only use-by or best-before dates and remove sell-by and display-until labels relating to stock control.

The British Retail Consortium said a better approach would be to educate people on what the dates mean.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says five million tonnes of edible food is discarded by UK households annually - the equivalent of £680 for a household with children.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said confusion over food labelling was responsible for an estimated £750m of the £12bn edible-food wastage each year.

'Not relevant'

"We want to end the food labelling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat," she said.

She wants confusing stock rotation information - such as sell-by dates - removed from packaging altogether.

Start Quote

We always emphasise that use-by dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety”

End Quote Liz Redmond Food Standards Agency

"There are products that have several dates on them; use by, best before. Sometimes it says 'display until', which is not relevant at all by the time it's sitting in your fridge," Ms Spelman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"So I can understand when people - particularly young people starting out with shopping - look at these dates and say 'I'm not sure about this; better throw it away'."

Compliance with the new guidance is not required by law, although Defra says businesses are legally bound to label food with either a use-by or best-before date.

Its guidance says foods likely to require a use-by date - meaning they could become dangerous to eat - include soft cheese, ready-prepared meals and smoked fish.

Foods likely to require only a best-before date - meaning they may lose quality but are still safe to consume - include biscuits, jams, pickles, crisps and tinned foods.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman: "People are confused about food labelling"

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is backing the new advice.

"We always emphasise that use-by dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety," said its head of hygiene and microbiology, Liz Redmond.

'Wrong approach'

However, food writer Rose Prince told Today she doubted the science employed by manufacturers to set use-by dates and said perishables such as eggs and yoghurt could often last much longer.

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

The British Retail Consortium argues the government is tackling the problem of food waste in the wrong way.

Food Director Andrew Opie said a better approach would be to educate consumers so they are clear on the difference between best-before and use-by dates.

"Helping consumers understand that food past its best-before date can still be eaten or cooked could contribute to reducing food waste and saving people money," he said.

"The government should be spreading that message, not focusing on retail practices."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 511.

    Considering most food in shops has a "shelf life" of only a couple of days, I would say these dates are pretty meaningless. I often eat food several days past it's SB date no problem. It's the food standards agency to blame I suspect. The usual over-cautious approach to public health. By all means use a "use by" date, but make it realistic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    The dates are important and give the consumer a means of knowing how safe food really is. However... a radical rethink of food supply in this country is required.

    All theses empty shops should be made rate free when opening as a fruit and veg shop. Not a fancy deli but an old fashioned shop that sells fresh produce. Likewise the same for butchers and fishmongers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Tonnnes of good food are being dumped on daily basis by Supermarkets.

    I often shop later and ask shopworkers what will happen to unsold bread, cookies, cakes, cooked chicken etc. They just look at the ceiling and shrug their shoulders. . .it really is sinful to go on wasting edible food like this.
    Why not lower the price around 4 o'clock, at least they'll guarrantee sale, rather than waste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    I usually buy my food on a daily basis, pretty much. It saves me money as I'm not buying stuff that then gets thrown away because it has gone out of date. If I bulk buy chicken, mince gets frozen on the day of purchase. I agree that a lot of this date labelling is more for the benefit of the supermarket so people throw away perfectly good food and buy more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    My gran was born in 1905 and lived until she was 92 and none of the food she bought an eat had these dates on, she bought fresh and what came from her garden, perhaps if people bought fresh and less processed and used their nose and common sense this wouldn't be needed. Just another example of the Government interfering in everyday lives. I never take any notice of these dates.


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