Use By Dates: How Can it Be Made Clearer?

One of the biggest contributors to the UK’s alarming food waste issues is the confusion that lies in differentiating between ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates.

An enormous amount of food is thrown away each year in UK households which could have been safely consumed, often the cause being a misinterpretation of the date on its packaging.

Throw ‘Sell By’ and ‘Sell Until’ into the mix and the issue deepens. These two are used mainly by retailers for the purposes of stock and quality control, rather than to help consumers be aware of what they can safely eat.

Former Environment and Food Secretary Hilary Benn commented “"When we buy food it should be easy to know how long we should keep it for and how we should store it.”

“Too many of us are putting things in the bin simply because we're not sure, we're confused by the label, or we're just playing safe."

Many have called for retailers to only show the ‘Use By’ date on products, this being the only one which consumers need to be aware of in terms of safe consumption.

Research by Defra has shown that ‘Best Before’ is frequently confused as an indication of safety concerns, when in fact this is simply a mark of quality, not safety.

However, retailers have argued that the confusion is caused by the misinterpretation of labels rather than the actual dates themselves, citing the importance of quality control in their products.

Stephen Robertson, former Director General of the British Retail Consortium, commented “Scrapping best-before dates won't reduce food waste. Customer education will. Date labels are there to help customers but they need to understand what they mean.”

With the UK’s food waste problems worsening at a worrying pace, is it time that retailers reassessed their packaging?