Selling “Sell-By” Down the River

The Brits have proposed yet another innovative idea for reducing food waste: ban sell-by dates

As part of the War on Waste campaign, Britain’s Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn proposed the elimination of these “sell-by” dates while keeping true expiration dates to avoid confusion. Many consumers see the dates aimed at retailers and just throw items away. What’s more, often stores will discard goods at their sell-by date, even though they may have a week or more of use left. Benn said:  

“Too many of us are putting things in the bin simply because we’re not sure, we’re confused by the label, or we’re just playing safe.”  

photo by palila via creative commonsAccording to the Telegraph‘s subheading, this would only be with produce (not dairy or meats, I’m guessing). The whole thing is pretty exciting. Benn is a cabinet minister, which is similar to chairing a (U.S.)Senate Committee. Can you imagine a state representative, let alone a U.S. Senator, talking about food waste? Personally, I’m having a hard time picturing it.

Speaking of pictures, the great photo from the Telegraph shows a tactic I’ve never seen, having two kinds of dates on the package. And the words are understandable:”display until” and “use by.” This strikes me as a very clear way of labeling food.

Also, the BBC coverage of the issue had an update on a proposal to tax citizens more for producing more waste and reward those who create less. It ain’t gonna fly.

What’s your take on packaging wording? And if you had to choose one term–sell-by, use-by, best by, best before, enjoy before, etc., which would it be?

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4 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    This is a fantastic idea! I know from working at a grocery store that when items are even nearing the “sell by” date, there is a tendency to “shrink” (store speak for taking it out of inventory) the items right into the trash. I would see horrible waste happening this way, but employees aren’t allowed to take any of it – we’d get fired for that – so it just goes in the trash. I think a true expiration date would be helpful, and even then, just put the item on price reduction, don’t pitch it.

  2. janes'_kid
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    We’ve seen a few products that have a ‘use or freeze before [date]‘ and some that say ‘best if used before [date]‘

    One advantage of the ‘sell by [date]‘ is that the store may cut the price, sometimes drastically toward the end of the period. We only buy steaks that have the price slashed because it is near the end of the period.

  3. Roger Kint
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I think “Enjoy by” could encourage food waste. It implies that when food nears that date, the product will become progressivley less enjoyable. In general, changing the wording on food products is a great idea!

  4. Posted December 17, 2011 at 4:44 am | Permalink

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2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food Blog is always a great resource for an issue that affects institutions, restaurants and individuals alike: how to organize ourselves so that we use the best of food before it becomes its own doppelganger. One of the strengths of the blog is that he references other countries’ responses to food waste, reminding us to learn from others’ practices and innovations. [...]

  2. [...] Food Expiration News and Soy Products Posted on Wednesday, June 10th, 2009 at 4:11 pm by Kim Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food Blog is always a great resource for an issue that affects institutions, restaurants and individuals alike: how to organize ourselves so that we use the best of food before it becomes its own doppelganger. One of the strengths of the blog is that he references other countries’ responses to food waste, reminding us to learn from others’ practices and innovations. [...]

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