Waitrose fruit aisle apples

Waitrose has announced it will be removing best before dates from 500 fresh products

Best before dates have been getting a lot of airtime since Waitrose announced it would be removing them from 500 fresh products. And for good reason – Wrap estimates doing so will save seven million shopping baskets of food from the bin.

In principle, being an indicator of quality, best before dates sound like a great way to let the consumer know when to eat your product at its peak. But while they are well-intentioned, a lot of people confuse them for a food safety label, like use by dates. The result is that, unintentionally, best before dates cause a hefty amount of food waste in the home. The European Commission found public misunderstanding about expiration dates is causing a whopping 10% of Europe’s food waste – 9,000,000 tonnes each year.

As well as causing waste in the home, they can be a challenging feat in the supply chain too. We’ve been stung by best before a few times – from delays in campaigns meaning stock is deemed ‘unfit’, to unforeseen hurdles in our product lifecycle. While we always redistribute this stock, it’s frustrating to see wasted potential.

Unfortunately, we’re legally obliged to have either a best before or use by on our packaging. But labelling can also reduce wastage. Here are a few initiatives we’ve used:

  • A ‘look, smell, taste, don’t waste’ label: This label, initiated by Too Good To Go, prompts consumers to sense-check food instead of blindly binning it once past a lapsed best before date.
  • Challenge whether you really need a use by: If your food is safe to consume past the expiry, you can prevent waste by switching use by to a best before. Brands like Onken and Laughing Cow have recently made the switch.
  • One date label is enough: Find out whether a best before or use by is necessary to your product, and stick with one.
  • Donate stock: It’s a no-brainer but donate any products past their best before to a food redistribution charity.
  • Challenge conservative best before dates: Often food can have a longer life than is specified in the best before with no significant drop in quality. Make sure you’re not cutting these dates too fine and making life hard for your own supply chain. It could mean your product is binned rather than enjoyed by a consumer.