By Louise Gray
Consumers will be encouraged to adopt a “sniff it and see” approach to old food under Government plans to cut waste.
At the moment people use ‘best before’ dates to tell when food has gone off.
But this means that tonnes of good food is being thrown away every year, that could have been eaten.
The new guidance, to be published in the next few weeks, will make it clear that ‘best before’ is simply a guide to food quality.
For example bread or biscuits can continue to be eaten or used in another dish without any safety implications after the best before date.
Perishable foods like prawns or eggs will retain a simple ‘use by’ date that signals when the food may become dangerous to eat.
Under European law ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ dates have to be maintained so that consumers know what they are eating even if they travel around the EU. ‘Use by’ has to be used on perishable foods like cheese and meat for safety reasons and ‘best before’ has to be used to signal how fresh food is.
However the Department for the Enviroment, Food and Rural Affairs want the labels to be made much more clear.
The guidance is expected to recommend retailers clearly label when perishable foods like sausages will become dangerous with a ‘use by’ date, while minimising use of the ‘best before’ date and making clear it is safe to use the food for some period after.
“By law pre-packed food must show a best before date, even though many foods are still safe to eat after that date,” said a spokesman. “This is very different from the ‘use by’ date that shows when food is no longer safe and should be thrown away. Being clear on the difference between the two could help us all to reduce our food waste.”
Households in Britain throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food every year, including apples, bread and other foods that could have been eaten. On average households throw away £520 of good food and drink a year, according to recent studies.
Environmental groups claim that much of the waste is caused by unclear labelling and two-for-one deals that encourage people to buy more than they need.
However Richard Dodd of the British Retail Consortium said it was as much about education as labelling.
He said people did not know how to re-use leftovers or store food correctly.
“You cannot just do away with best before and use by dates,” he said. “Firstly it is governed by EU legislation. Secondly these dates are really important
“The use by dates are about safety and best before dates are actually important because they indicate quality.
“However there is scope for education so people better understand what these labels mean.”