Consumers should use common sense over food expiry dates, new guidance says

Retailers should only utilise 'use by' dates if there is a food safety reason to do so - and otherwise leave customers to judge the quality of perishable foods using common sense, new guidelines have claimed.

Scots waste 170,000 tonnes of food every year.

Waste charity Wrap said food labels use too many different terms, prompting people to throw away usable produce and has urged consumers to consider “best before” dates as a guideline, rather than throw out produce as soon as it reaches the printed timescale. It said food manufacturers should only print a “use by” date on a product if it is actually dangerous to eat after that date, such as fresh meat.

The changes, created by Wrap, alongside the Food Standards Agency and UK Government agency Defra, aim to reduce the amount of food thrown away, which in Scotland alone, comes to 170,000 tonnes every year.

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The organisation has created the “little blue fridge” symbol to tell people which foods - including items such as apples - should be kept refrigerated to prolong their shelf life and also calls for a further roll-out of changes to the commonly used ‘freeze on date of purchase’ label to reflect that foods can be safely frozen right up until their use by date.

The guidance also states that only one date label should ever be used on packaging, calling for internal stock control dates such as “display until” to be scrapped.

Marcus Gover, chief executive at WRAP, said: “A key way to help reduce household food waste is to give people as long as possible to use the food they buy. Labelling information can help with many aspects of this.

“Telling people clearly how long a product can be consumed once opened, and giving consistent and simple information about storing and freezing, will help people keep their food fresher for longer, and give more options to freeze the food and use it later- rather than binning food that could have been eaten.”

Scottish Government quango Zero Waste Scotland estimates that every household in Scotland could save around £460 a year by not wasting food that is safe to eat.

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “We know current date label and storage advice is confusing and leads to thousands of tonnes of usable food being thrown away from Scotland’s homes every year – a sheer financial and environmental waste.

“A lot of food is wasted from our homes because people don’t understand whether it’s safe to eat or not, and confusion over date labels and what they mean plays a significant part in this. The changes to food labelling suggested in the new guidance could make a big difference to the amount of food we waste.”

Dr Jacqui McElhiney, head of food protection science and surveillance at Food Standards Scotland, said: “Food Standards Scotland’s research highlights that there’s some confusion about the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on food labels. A ‘use by’ date is about food safety and is used on foods that go off quickly, such as dairy and meat. A ‘best before’ date is about food quality rather than food safety so after this date, while the quality of the food may not be the same, it is not harmful to eat.”