Why you should ignore best-before dates
SUPERMARKET chain Woolworths has indicated it is open to the possibility of removing best-before dates from some products following a UK chain's decision to ditch the labelling.
Australians throw away 20 million tonnes of food each year, one-third of that fresh produce.
On Tuesday, the UK's largest supermarket chain Tesco, said best-before dates would no longer appear on packaged produce because the labels were leading to shoppers throwing away "perfectly edible" food.
Campaigners have welcomed the move by Tesco. Food donation organisation Oz Harvest told news.com.au it was a "bold move" and encouraged Australian retailers to do the same. It has called on Australia's food labelling regulations to be reassessed.
Tesco said bags of tomatoes, potatoes, apples and lemons are among the products that will no longer sport the date labels, reported the BBC.
"We know some customers may be confused by the difference between 'best before' and 'use by' dates on food and this can lead to perfectly edible items being thrown away before they need to be discarded," Mark Little, Tesco's head of food waste, said.
Packed fruit and vegetables were the items most commonly binned by shoppers with substantial numbers tending to throw away a potato or carrot that is perfectly fine to eat, but is a day over its expiry date.
However, Tesco said the changes were simply catching up with the already substantial number of consumers who were ignoring the best-before dates and judging by their own eyes.
"Many customers have told us that they assess their fruit and vegetables by the look of the product rather than the best-before date code on the packaging," Mr Little said.
The chain has sought to calm fears that old vegies would be wilting away on shelves and claimed they had "rigorous stock rotation procedures in place".
According to campaign group Do Something, Australians chuck out 20 per cent of the food they buy amounting to $1036 of money down the drain per household per year. Nationally that's almost $10 billion of perfectly good food thrown away.
Millennials, according to The Mitsubishi Electric Home Trends report, conducted by Lonergan Research, are said to be the worst offenders, spending $163.07 a week on average on groceries, but wasting $20.59 of that on food that's either forgotten about or expires.
USE-BY OR BEST-BEFORE?
The top reason food is binned is because we cook too much, but best-before and use-by dates are next on the list. A UK survey found half of consumers were confused about the difference between the various expiry dates.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is the government body that regulates food labelling.
According to FSANZ: "Foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use-by date." For instance, meat or milk that can spoil and then make people ill, should have a use-by date.
However, best-before dates are a whole different matter. The dates are for guidance only and it's completely legal to still sell food after the date has been exceeded.
"You can still eat foods for a while after the best-before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality," states FSANZ.
Packaged foods with a shelf life of more than two years are exempt from date marks completely as the likelihood is they could remain edible for many years and calculating when they would spoil would be little more than guesswork.
Loose fruit and vegetables and baked bread also don't need date marks.
A spokeswoman for Coles told news.com.au its bagged fruit and vegies do indeed have best-before dates and they would be guided by FSANZ about whether they should change that policy.
Woolworths, too, confirmed it had best-before dates on products like organic packed produce, bagged potatoes and cut apples, but it was not mandatory on bags of fruit and veg so long as the food inside was clearly visible.
A company spokeswoman said Woolies was open to reviewing these policies to minimise food waste.
"Recently we have been working hard to minimise food waste with better processes in our stores and through our food rescue partnerships.
"We remain open to looking at new ways to reduce food waste right across our supply chain," she said.
One of the main ways food is wasted is before it even reaches the stores, with substandard fruit and vegetables siphoned out often by farmers themselves.
Woolies has tried to minimise this with its "Odd Bunch" line of knobbly carrots and not very bendy bananas sold for less than the usual varieties.
Ronnie Kahn, founder and chief executive of food donation organisation Oz Harvest, questioned the effectiveness of food labelling laws.
"Food labelling is the second biggest cause of food waste, because we don't understand it," she told Channel 9.
"You grandmother, my grandmother, they didn't have labelling laws. What did she do? She smelled, she tasted. In other words, she didn't just ignorantly throw things away without testing it with her senses."
A spokeswoman for Oz Harvest told news.com.au: "This is a really bold move by Tesco to remove best-before dates." She encouraged supermarkets to do the same in Australia.