best before, use by, display until, date label, defra, food standards agencyBest before dates could be removed from food packaging in new proposals from DEFRA, supported by the Food Standards Agency.

The existence of both best before and use by dates causes confusion amongst customers, according to a new report, leading to around £12bn of edible food being thrown away each year.

The further complication of display until dates, used by retailers for stock control, causes people to say ‘I’m not sure about this; better throw it away’, according to Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

What do the labels mean?

  • Display until – Used by retailers for stock control. With no legal basis, this date is often the day before the use by date
  • Use by – Products cannot be sold after this date, and should not be used after midnight of the date indicated. For perishable products, this date is legally required
  • Best before – related to food quality, including taste, texture, and appearance, best before indicates when a supplier believes the product will cease being at its very best. After this date, product is usually still edible

Will this simplification of the rules help or hinder retailers? Display until dates are extremely useful for staff so that they know an item is soon to be unsellable. Without it there could be a danger of increasing wastage in shops, offsetting any wastage savings the consumer might make.

The British Retail Consortium think that taking all but the use by date away is a bad idea, and that better consumer education is needed on what the various dates mean.

If an item has been on your shelf long enough to go past its best before date, when the quality of the product is past its best, then surely you should be asking yourself “Why am I stocking this item?”

What do you think? Should we drop the best before and display until dates, only leaving use by for food safety? Or should retailers and government try harder to educate consumers?