There are two types of people in life: those who follow expiry dates to the minute and those sniff week-old milk before putting it in their tea.
To end this great divide, rid shoppers of confusion over expiry dates and tackle food waste, new guidance from Wrap, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Defra will see food labels overhauled and displayed more simply.
Two million tonnes of food are wasted each year in UK homes purely because it is thrown away prematurely. It is thought one third of this is triggered because of how shoppers interpret existing date labels.
To tackle the problem, food labels will show ‘use by’ dates only when there is a food safety concern, such as with chicken, and ‘best before’ dates for everything else to dissuade people from throwing food away unnecessarily.
It has also called on supermarkets to scrap ‘display until’ or ‘sell by’ date labels, as this can lead to further confusion.
Milk, eggs, yoghurt, fruit juice and smoothies are most often thrown out because of date labels. It is believed introducing ‘best before’ instead of ‘use by’ dates could help reduce waste, as many of these items often last longer than what it says on the packaging.
The new guidance will be used by food manufacturers, retailers and brands as the industry standard. It brings together recommendations that ensures food is safe and adheres to legal requirements, with best practice information to ensure it is stored and used within time.
The organisation wants to see helpful logos - such as the Snowflake logo, for foods that could be frozen - used more often, as consumers find them easier to understand.
It is also introducing a new Little Blue Fridge icon for foods which should be kept chilled or would benefit from being kept in the fridge, such as apples.
What is a ‘use by’ date?
According to Love Food Hate Waste, these dates refer to safety. “Food can be eaten up to the end of this date but not after even if it looks and smells fine,” the website reads. “Always follow the storage instructions on packs.”
What is a ‘best before’ date?
According to Sophie Medlin, a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics, the ‘best before’ label refers to the quality of the food.
She said: “You may not enjoy the product so much after the best before date. It might have depreciated in quality, so something that should have been crunchy might be a bit softer than you’d like it to be.”
What is a ‘sell by’ date?
A display until or sell by date label should be ignored, as they are for shop staff not for shoppers.
Marcus Gover, CEO at WRAP, said: “Telling people clearly how long a product can be consumed once opened, and giving consistent and simple information about storing and freezing, will help people keep their food fresher for longer, and give more options to freeze the food and use it later - rather than binning food that could have been eaten.”
WRAP is currently working with the UK’s largest food companies and manufacturers to help them implement changes across own brand and branded items. But with the average retailer stocking between 20,000 and 30,000 different products, it may take some time before changes appear.
Some of the changes which have already been made include:
:: More pasteurised fruit juices and hard cheeses moving from ‘use by’ to nearly all now carrying a ‘best before’ date.
:: More fresh produce carrying advice to store in the fridge, to keep it fresher for longer.
:: The use of ‘freeze on day of purchase’ being replaced by best practice advice to ‘freeze before the date shown’, particularly on fresh meat.
Heather Hancock, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said she welcomed the new guidance to help tackle food waste, “without compromising the safety of food”.
Environment Minister, Thérèse Coffey, said of the move: “We know that confusing labels can contribute to food waste by suggesting that edible items need to be thrown away sooner than is necessary.
“This new guidance will make packaging much clearer for consumers, saving them money and reducing waste.
“I encourage all food businesses, large and small, to use this guidance to help them put the right date mark on food and help to guide people on the refrigeration and freezing of products which are crucial to reducing the amount of edible food thrown away.”