The food date labelling system must be overhauled to clear up confusion around use-by dates and stop the 5.3 million tonnes of food that is wasted in the UK every year, according to new research.

Retailers and consumers forked out about £600m per year on food that had to be ditched once its use-by date had expired, said the independent report commissioned by the Local Better Regulation Office.

It called on the government to change the system so use-by dates were only used and set where food was, from a microbiological point of view, highly perishable and likely to present an immediate danger to health.

Retailers and wholesalers spent about £110m ­annually on compliance checks, excluding the cost of food that had to be thrown away, it claimed.

However, the checking of date labels was time-consuming and complicated by the size, font and location of the date making it hard for large retailers to achieve 100% compliance.

"If there were fewer products with a use-by date, this challenge would be less and enforcement ­activities could be better targeted," the report said.

The research, compiled by a review group including representatives from the British Retail Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, also urged the government to only seek prosecutions where products sold or offered for sale past their use-by dates posed genuine safety risks.

"There needs to be less emphasis on tick-box enforcement and more emphasis on the role that use-by can play both in food safety and reducing food waste," said BRC director of food policy Andrew Opie.

An ACS spokesman added: "Date coding is complicated and causes unnecessary wastage. We welcome the report and its recommendations. Now we want to see it lead to genuine deregulation. We hope this will deliver a new approach that will be clear for retailers and provide consumers with reassurance."