“Best before” labels: do they increase food waste?

Food which is otherwise thrown out, is being salvaged and sold at heavily discounted prices to people who need it. “Foodies” of Cape Town, South Africa are selling damaged food or food which is past its “sell by” or “best before” date at significantly reduced prices. the-issue-of-global-food-waste

The “sell by” date was first introduced by Marks & Spencer’s in their warehouses in 1953. The intention was for the retailer to know by when to sell their products.

Over the following two decades the “sell by” date was tweaked to “sell until”, “display until” etc.   It’s all very confusing for the consumer!  And as a result tonnes of food is wasted every year.

In 2009, the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs was quoted as saying that, the UK alone, throws away 370,000 tonnes of food each year.

Date labelling is mandatory under European law.

What happens if you consume food past the date on the packaging?

As long as you use your common sense and follow your nose, nothing will happen. Have you ever eaten a pot of yogurt “expired” by a few days?  Try it. I promise, you will live to tell the tale!

If you have fruit and vegetables in the bottom drawer of your fridge and they’ve been sitting there for the past five to six weeks, you do not need a date on the packet to tell you they’re not good to eat. They’re probably soft and mouldy and I suspect a foul smell hits you every time you open the fridge door.

“Sell by”, “sell until”, “best before”, “display until” are all meant for stock and quality control.  It is only “use by” which is meant to be taken literally, for food safety reasons.

A restaurant in Denmark is making use of fruit and vegetables which the supermarkets throw out.  The restaurant is sponsored by a charity and the proceeds from food sold go towards funding development projects in Sierra Leone.


Personally, I believe that one of the reasons retailers insist “best before” dates are not removed, is because they play on the consumers’ minds. No matter how much is said or written, a great number of people will still choose to “play safe” and throw out their “expired” products, resulting in increased sales.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think products past their “sell by” date are fit for human consumption? Leave a comment.

My thanks go to:

BBC News (Africa)

The Guardian online

The Telegraph online (food and drink)

Visit Copenhagen


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