Date Labelling Campaigns
Expiry dates are responsible for 10% of the 88 million tons of food wasted across the value chain in Europe
Yes, simply insane. This is equivalent to 3 to 6 billion euros each year (WRAP, 2015). The main reason why this still happens is because many consumers don't know the difference between 'use by', 'sell by', and 'best before' dates.
Labels are mandatory and legally-binding for retailers to ensure food safety and quality. Dates are set based on the following criteria in mind only:
- Sanitary requirements (pathogens, bacteria)
- Organoleptic (taste, consistency, texture, color changes that may occur)
- Intrinsic factors (deterioration of nutrients and vitamins)
- Storage conditions
- Production conditions
- Attitudes of consumers (perceptions and reflexes)
However, the large variety of labels used confuse consumers and some no longer see them as trustworthy and legitimate (European Commission, 2018). The more confused consumers are, the more they will eventually waste. So let's clarify what they actually mean...
Indicates the time by when the product should be consumed. After that date the product presents health and safety issues. This is mainly used for perishable products and prevents you from eating the item after the date is exceeded, when you run the risk of getting ill.
"49% of Europeans think that better and clearer information on the meaning of “best before” and “use by” dates would help them waste less food at home"
Indicates how long a product can keep its optimum quality. These dates are set based on best practice guides or experience. Therefore, it’s an autoregulation system whereby each individual business sets their own rules, with no clear consistency, alignment or transparency.
"53% of EU consumers do not know the meaning of “best before” labelling"
These dates are not required by law nor do they provide any indication of the quality or safety of the product. They simply Indicate the date that retailers use as guidance for stock rotations.
The EU is examining "ways to improve the use of date marking by actors in the food chain and its understanding by consumers, in particular best before labelling" (EU Commission, 2015). Currently, the conditions for date labelling are stated by legislation which apply in the entire EU and EEA and regulated by the 'Regulation on food information to consumers´ (EU no 1169/2011).
“If any changes to EU food labelling rules are proposed in the future, it is critical that these: meet consumer information needs, can contribute to food waste reduction, and do not put consumer safety at risk”
A recent market study on date marking found that there is currently a wide variation in date marking practices and poor legibility of date marks. Regulatory and non-regulatory actions have therefore been presented to various member states to strengthen cooperation and innovation in the food supply chain.
In 2018, a mandate of a sub-group was established under the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste to support EU activities in relation to date marking and food waste prevention. It was specifically put in place to:
- facilitate a comprehensive and informed debate through the contribution of all key players
- analyse and recommend options (legislative/non-legislative) to improve the understanding and use of date marking by actors in the food chain including consumers as well as regulatory authorities
- share experience and best practice in relation to date marking and food waste prevention
We have realised that action needs to be taken across Europe. Therefore, we have started working with fellow industry partners, experts, and local governments on various initiatives in different countries.
Aimed directly at the food industry and the local governments, our White Paper set out our ambition to work collaboratively with different stakeholders towards a better understanding of expiry dates. It outlines current practices and legislation in France, and suggests the following recommendations to consider:
- Harmonise expiry dates across product and industries collaboratively
- Revise the use of the Minimum Durability Dates
- Strengthen consumer education and awareness
- Relax the contractual rules between manufacturer and distributor
In February 2019, we launched a new initiative on date labelling in Danish supermarkets. A coalition of industry leaders in the food & drinks sector has therefore pledged to add “often good after” to goods labelled “best before” to remind consumers that food may still be edible after that specified date. As best before dates are indicative, food can easily still be eaten if it smells and tastes fine. Consumers should, therefore, opt towards their senses to test the shelf life of the product.
Want to find out more about expiry dates and date labelling? Then click here.