Best before labels reach their sell-by date in food waste crackdown

The "best before" dates on food packaging are set to be scrapped in a drive by ministers to stop millions of tonnes of perfectly edible produce being thrown away each year.

Bread would carry much simpler labels where potential risks of food poisoning would be minimal Photo: REUTERS

By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor
9:00PM BST 16 Apr 2011

New guidelines are expected to be unveiled which will provide better information for shoppers and make them far more reluctant to chuck out food before it is even opened, potentially saving households hundreds of pounds a year.

The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the coalition wants an end to the confusing proliferation of instructions on food labelling which have greatly expanded over the past decade.

Instead of marking food "best before" a certain date, retailers will in future have to produce labels which give details of the health risks associated with individual foods that remain on shelves or in the fridge for a lengthy period before being consumed.

Prawns and eggs, for example, would be more likely, under the new guidelines, to carry detailed warnings of potential risks of food poisoning if they were eaten after a certain date.

Bread, however, where risks would be minimal, would carry much simpler labels.

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In particular, ministers are targeting "best before" and "sell by" labels, which they blame in particular for food being thrown away while it is still perfectly fine to eat. Some sort of "use by" dates, however, are expected to be retained.

A coalition source said: "Staples like mushroom and tomatoes are routinely marked 'best before' when all that happens when they reach these dates is that the food loses a bit of colour or goes a bit soft. We cannot carry on simply throwing away tonnes of food like this."

Households in Britain dump 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink a year most of it ending up in landfill, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). The programme estimates that more than 5million tonnes of this is edible.

Dumped food each day in Britain includes 5 million potatoes, 4.4 million apples, a million loaves of bread and a million slices of ham, WRAP estimates.

Wasting food is thought to cost the average family with children £680 a year - with households throwing as much as a quarter of all their food and drink purchases.

Critics have also placed part of the blame on supermarkets offering "buy-one-get-one-free", multi-buy deals known as BOGOF offers.

The Local Government Association has also complained that deals on products with a short shelf life, including fruit and vegetables, mean shoppers throw away large amounts. ... kdown.html