Britain Bids Adieu to ‘Best Before’

Environment Minister Hilary Benn hinted at it when we spoke in 2009. One minister and two years later, it looks set to happen: The British government has advised food retailers to scrap some date labels because they cause confusion, and ultimately, waste.

After consulting with food makers and sellers, the government has recommended that retailers phase out “best before” dates, which mostly focus on taste. This Guardian editorial supports that view.

The  changes, due to happen in the next month, will also include “sell-by” or “display-until” dates. Those labels are meant to help retailers know long to keep items on the shelf, but consumers often think they’re aimed at them. [Aside: It was fascinating to learn in the above editorial that UK retailer Marks and Spencer introduced sell-by dates in 1970.]

It will be interesting to see how the implementation happens, and whether there’s any backlash. There’s already an interesting discussion on the topic in New Zealand, where the major paper picked up on the idea. What do you make of this idea?

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  1. Paula
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    I think people need to (re)learn (more) about the food they eat! For example, how to choose good fresh fruits and vegetables, what happens to fresh and conserved foods (that have been opened) as time goes on (appearance, smell, taste, texture), what the differences are between foods that are full of preservatives and those that are not, and on and on. People used to learn that from parents or family, but many people have now lost this knowledge and cannot pass it on. Partly out of fear people then buy heavily packaged and processed food or eat at restaurants. How can we make sure kids get this valuable information?

  2. Dani B
    Posted April 23, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I do LOVE the fact that you have a picture of marmite on this post. I love the stuff myself, and had never thought of it as having a “best before” date, let alone it ever going bad! You were right (Jonathan) when you said that the “sniff test” should be enough for most people, and I think that using your eyes + common sense should go a long way to knowing when food is not safe to eat.

  3. Mike Painter
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    I also agree with Paula and Dani B. It is extremely important to know what you are eating and the difference between the good stuff and the bad. People should have common sense to know when something is not safe but, unfortunately this skill seems to not have been passed down in recent generations.

  4. Posted May 10, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    There’s nothing wrong with replacements si king as they have the capabilities.

  5. Steve
    Posted May 15, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Back in the 1940′s when I was growing up my mother had a 6′ X 6′ pantry with shelves on both sides and a trap door in the center of the floor that led to a dugout where the carrots and potatoes were kept during the winter. The fridge was an ice box where ice was delivered on Mondays and completely thawed out by Friday. Jars had a 1/4 inch of mold in them and my mother would say. “scrap the mold of and put it on your bread or you will starve as that is all there is to eat. With cheese you would cut the moldy pieces and eat the rest. Milk was sour by Saturday and mom made cake with it. I am seventy years old and in good health. My brothers and sisters were over eighty five when they passed away. Today if it is a day over the Best Before Date consumers are afraid they are going to die if they eat it. The food is still good and in some countries they don’t even have food that is that fresh so lets stop the B.S.

  6. Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Its hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic however you sound like you know what youre talking about! Thanks 756163

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