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Date labelling responsible for £12 billion food wastage

Use by date

As a nation, the UK throws away around 8.3 million tonnes of food per year, much of it unnecessarily. The wastage is caused in part by supermarkets offering ‘Buy one get one free’ on perishable items, where there is simply too much of the item for the customer to consume. But perhaps the most common reason why food is thrown away is misunderstandings over date labelling.

Types of date labels

There are four main date labels: ‘Use by’, ‘Best Before’, ‘Display Until’ and ‘Sell By.’ These are confusing to consumers, with many believing them all to mean the same thing.

‘Use By’ is the most important label of all because after that date, food becomes unsafe to eat. It is often displayed on items such as eggs, soft cheeses, smoked fish and pre-packed salads.

‘Best Before’ is slightly different in that food is at its best before that date, but is still safe to eat a few days afterwards, provided that it has been stored in the correct manner.

‘Display Until’ and ‘Sell By’ are coding for retailers to help with stock rotation.

New guidelines to scrap confusing labelling

Happily for consumers, the confusion will soon be over since new guidelines have been issued to food and drink manufacturers by DEFRA. These state that only ‘Use By’ or ‘Best Before’ labels should appear on packaging. Manufacturers and retailers will need to find alternative methods of stock control now that the ‘Display Until’ and ‘Sell By’ dates are to be removed. This move should go some way towards reducing the £12 billion of food which is currently thrown away.

What of food which doesn’t come packaged and therefore doesn’t bear any labelling, such as meat bought from a local butcher or cold cuts, pies, cakes and cheeses bought from a small delicatessen for example? Generally you would be expected to eat these within two or three days and since they don’t come in airtight packaging they need to be stored in the correct manner in the refrigerator. Smell is also a good indicator of whether something is fit for consumption. Animals always sniff food before they decide whether or not to eat it – and so should we.

Are your packaging claims legal?

It is not just date labelling that is confusing to consumers. Every day they are bombarded with messaging claiming that a product is ‘less than 5% fat’, will ‘lower cholesterol’, is ‘low sugar’, or ‘low calorie’, ‘produced in England’, ‘60% pork’, ‘75% of RDA’ etc.

Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that the messaging printed on their packaging is clear and truthful. Our Legal Labelling course  is designed to give delegates a working knowledge of legislative requirements for food composition and labelling. It covers the following:

  • Product title and brand names
  • Legal names and customary names
  • Marketing sub-descriptors & claims
  • Additives
  • Allergens
  • Nutrition and health claims
  • Ingredients declarations and QUIDs
  • Origin Marking and Protected names
  • Date coding
  • EU proposals to introduce new Food Information Regulations – an update on progress and likely changes the Regulation will introduce

This will enable delegates to confidently assess product specifications, pack copy and artwork for legality. It is suitable for Specification Technologists, Technical Managers, Product Developers, Label Designers and those responsible for artwork approval.