UK could phase out “best before” labels in bid to tackle food waste

Posted by Isobel Drake on 11th June 2009

The UK Government has outlined new tactics in their bid to tackle waste, including the possibility of ridding packaging of ‘best before’ dates. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also indicated that supermarkets could face prosecution for excessive packaging and be required to used more recycled content.

The Government is looking to reduce confusion with regard to food labelling – which sees perfectly good food thrown away too often. Consultation with industry is set to take place on the prospect of phasing out “best before”, “sell by” and “display until” labels in favour of the “use by” label (an actual safety requirement).

Typically ‘best before’ is an indicator that the product is no longer at its optimum for taste, but most food with ‘best before’ labels can be eaten beyond the best before date as it is generally a simple quality issue (and not one of safety). “Use by”, on the other hand, relates to the safety of the product – with products past the “use by” date regarded as being unsafe for consumption.

“Too many of us are putting things in the bin simply because we’re not sure, we’re confused by the label, or we’re just playing safe,” Hilary Benn, the UK’s Environment Secretary, said.

The idea has been questioned by the leading retail industry body in the region, however.

“Scrapping ‘best-before’ labels is not going to reduce food waste,” the British Retail Consortium (BRC) claimed. “There should be a focus on customer education.”

“Date labels are there to help customers but they need to understand what they mean. Retailers are working with the Government to improve understanding and to help customers make better choices about buying, storing and using food at home,” Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said.