Date Labels Dissected in the UK

Late last week, the UK Government scrapped “sell-by” dates. Food items will no longer be allowed to carry that date label that’s aimed at retailers but confusing for consumers.

At the same time, the Government, in the guise of the Dept. of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), offered authoritative guidance to distinguish between “use-by” and “best-before” labels. In short, “use-by” indicates food safety and “best-before” connotes freshness.

The full guidance communicates which items should carry which terms. It says:

…all food ready for delivery to the ultimate consumer or catering establishment that is not exempted under the FLR…should carry ‘an appropriate durability indication’, which would normally be a ‘best before’ date. For those foods which are highly perishable from a microbiological point of view, and are in consequence likely after a short period of time to pose an immediate danger to health, a ‘use by’ date must be used.

The rationale for the shift looks like this: If manufacturers use the terms appropriately, then consumers will understand what each really means, yielding less waste of perfectly-good food.

Unlike in the US, British food items are required by law to have some type of date label. This guidance helps distinguish what kind of label is best for each type of food. Also, it’s important to note that DEFRA has issued guidance–not changed the law–on “best-before” and “use-by” terms.

These changes have been promised for a long time, so it’s nice to see them come to fruition. After all, they’re all but guaranteed to reduce home and retail food waste.

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