DEBATE: Should we do away with best before dates?

There’s a lot of confusion about dates- best before, use by, sell by… what does it all mean?

Each year one million tonnes of untouched food is thrown away after the best before date, even though it’s still safe to eat.

Best before dates indicate when the food will be at its best. It may lose its flavour or texture but remains edible.

Best before should NOT be confused with the use by date which refers to when the food can no longer be safely eaten. Sell by or display until dates are for shop staff only for the purpose of stock rotation.

Click on the image below for more information on food labelling:

With the exception of eggs, it’s legal to sell food after its best before date. And yet most supermarkets chose not to for aesthetic reasons.

Selling products past their best before date has proved a profitable business plan for Dan Cluderay, the founder of the Approved Foods company in Sheffield, who’s made over £4 million in the last 6 years.

He believes people are too paranoid about best before dates:

So if food is safe to eat past its best before date- why not get rid of the best before date altogether?

EU law on food labelling requires all items to have a best before date, or a use by date for products that would subsequently be dangerous to consume, such as raw meat or milk.

But since May 2014 the EU have been considering relaxing best before dates for long life foods after a proposal was submitted by Dutch and Swedish agriculture ministers.

Last week (5th March) Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP) launched a campaign for supermarkets to extend best before dates by just one day, which their report estimates would save 250,000 tonnes of food a year.

Dr. Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at WRAP:

We estimate that shoppers could save upwards of £500m, and businesses could save £100m in waste prevention alone.

But the British Food Standards Agency which enforces labelling supports the current system.

It’s also unclear whether best before dates are the biggest cause of food waste. It’s not only untouched food which is thrown away- a large amount of cooked and prepared food is wasted.

A study by WRAP identified over 30 common reasons for household food waste including buying and preparing too much, and not liking the food prepared.

I headed out to a North London supermarket to find out what you had to say about eating food past its best before date and whether we should ban the label altogether:

Tell us what you think!


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