The food sector has welcomed Defra’s new guidance signalling the end of the ‘sell-by’ labelling – and insists that ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ are still essential for consumers.
Dropping ‘sell-by’ and ‘display until’ labels is seen as a way of cutting the estimated £12bn worth of food thrown out annually.
The advice – produced in association with WRAP - also says that ‘use by’ should be used only if food could be unsafe to eat after that date. “Best before” would help indicate the product is no longer at its best but is still safe to eat.
Therefore, some cheeses, fish and ready meals might require a ‘use by’ while ‘best before’ could refer to tinned foods and crisps.
WRAP estimates that 5.3m tonnes of food is thrown away unnecessarily each year, costing the average family £680 a year. Consumers confused by food labelling is seen as a significant factor.
Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said: “We want to end the food labelling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat.”
The Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) director of food safety and science Barbara Gallani said: “Defra’s guidance on the application of date marks on food and drink products will provide an additional tool for manufacturers to use to help consumers in their fight against food waste.
“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.”
Gallani quoted research from WRAP suggesting shoppers remain confused by the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ and that posed “a significant challenge around consumer understanding”.
“Equally, safety is paramount for food and drink business operators and companies will continue to look for ways to improve shelf-life calculations with the aim of helping consumers minimise any unnecessary food wastage in the home.”