waitrose asparagus

Items can remain good to eat for days, weeks or even months beyond their best before date when stored optimally

Time is up for best before dates.

Waitrose has become the latest big player to remove the labels from a selection of its fresh fruit & veg items. It follows hot on the heels of M&S, Ocado, Lidl and others Wrap has worked with to make this change.

We know best before dates can lead to people throwing away fruit & vegetables that are still good to eat. Removing these labels means consumers are increasingly able to use their own judgement on when to eat hundreds of everyday food items – something that can really help in the midst of a cost of living crisis.

There is no legal requirement to have a best before date, and at Wrap, we first recommended their removal from fruit & veg in 2019. But even we were astonished to unearth, in our report in February this year, just how much longer consumers kept fruit & veg when not influenced by best before dates.

The report was the culmination of an 18-month project in collaboration with the industry, in which we investigated the impact of date labels, home storage and plastic packaging on five everyday items: potatoes, apples, broccoli, bananas and cucumbers.

We demonstrated that these items could remain good to eat for days, weeks or even – in the case of apples and potatoes – months beyond their best before date, when stored optimally. Yet best before dates don’t help people use their judgement on when items are still good to eat. We found removing date labels on the five examined items alone could save over 240 million fruit & veg items from being wasted in UK households every year.

When combined with other measures – selling fruit & veg loose, and encouraging customers to store items at optimum temperatures at home – it’s a game-changing formula. For the five items we researched alone, it could result in a combined annual saving of around 100,000 tonnes of household food waste, more than 10,300 tonnes of plastic and 130,000 tonnes of CO2e. This is a breakthrough for our Courtauld 2030 partners in terms of their collective food waste and climate goals. It must become the norm in our supermarkets and our homes. 

There has never been a more important moment for retailers to take on board our recommendations. They help and empower people to connect with and enjoy their food, whether that’s around helping people use their judgement for foods with no date or a best before date, storing food to keep it fresher for longer, or freezing things to use later. They help protect our planet and enable customers to get the absolute maximum benefit from their food shop in these times of escalating prices.

We understand there are challenges to adopting these measures. That it entails different processes, staff training, and finding new ways to share information with customers. We recognise that there are other types of items where date labels are legally required. For fruit & veg, however, a number of retailers have successfully removed date labels – and this shows the potential for others to do the same.

We are currently in conversation with our Courtauld 2030 partners to collate information on what has been done and what plans they have in place, and offer support where needed. We will be reporting later in the year on progress through our retail survey, which will show not only information about fruit & veg, but other actions that retailers and brands have taken and plan to take, to help us all make the most of the food we buy.

Calling time on fruit & veg best before dates could be just the start of a revolution in food retail that is a win-win for the consumers and the environment.