Aptly for a government so concerned about waste, the coalition has been doing a bit of recycling over the weekend.

It now wants to get rid of ‘best before’ labels, reasoning that people really do chuck away stuff that’s fine to eat because of the date on the wrapper. It’s not a new idea. In fact, the FSA was looking at it back in January 2010.

The plan has put Whitehall on a collision course with retailers, who could reasonably argue most shoppers already take best before dates with a pinch of salt.

“The idea that [best before dates] are the cause of food waste is wrong,” the body says. “There certainly is scope for developing a better understanding among customers of what the dates mean. But helping customers better manage the buying, storing and using of food would be a more effective way of battling food waste.”

Nobody is denying there’s a problem, albeit one rooted deeply in our culture of entitlement. The average household is reckoned to bin food worth between £500 and £700 every year. That’s an awful lot of iffy coleslaw. And from the 8.3 million tonnes of food WRAP says is ditched annually, as much as 5 million tonnes could be edible.

To be fair to Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, she isn’t suggesting the change would be a cure-all. “If the date labels are part of the problem,” she says, “it’s one thing we should be able to change.”

There are other ways to deal with waste, as The Grocer’s James Halliwell found last week when he went rummaging for freebies with the nation’s covert community of ‘bin divers’.

Bodies like FareShare offer a workable solution on a far larger scale than currently takes place. “If we got just 1% of the food that was surplus, that would be a quantum leap for us,” says the body’s MD, Lindsay Boswell.

The retailer that moves fastest to tackle the problem can pocket some serious PR brownies points – until the next time, at least. As recent criticism of bogofs proved once again, it will always be easier politically to blame retailers for what we throw away than to finger consumers with shopping baskets bigger than their stomachs.

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