Best Before Date in food products is necessary for selling and consumption? What do you say?

February 6, 2023

By Sheba Sunny Marottickal

Have you ever imagined a direct relation between food labelling and its wastage at the consumer level? Do the expiration details of packaged food products lead to enormous loss of food in unpredictable ways? The common food labels show the following directions.

Best If Used By/Before: This is a quality assurance date and serves as a “suggestion” for when the taste and quality of food are at their peak. It is not a purchase or safety date.

Use By: This is the suggested date by which you should eat the food. But just because it’s a day or two past the use-by date doesn’t mean that consuming it will make you sick, although you should evaluate the quality of the food yourself after this time. It is not a safety date, except when used on infant formula.

Sell By: This is not a safety date, but rather a date for retailers that helps them determine how long an item should remain on the shelf. According to the IFT, “one-third of a product’s shelf-life remains after the sell-by date for the consumer to use at home.”

Freeze By: According to the USDA, this date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

On some cerebral level, we are aware that it is probably improper to throw away food. However, consumers are relying on food discarding when the informed date is over. In America, 40% of the food that is produced ends up in the trash or is otherwise wasted. That totals out. “The Dating Game”, a seminal 2013, study is cited by Vox in support of its finding that date markings on food, such as “use by,” “best before,” “sell by,” and “enjoy by” dates, are ambiguous and inconsistent.

According to this, the average American family discards between $1,365 and $2,275 annually. In the US, where an estimated 40% of food is wasted, this complicated system contributes to “substantial volumes” of unnecessary food waste. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, who are responsible for the paper, claim that more than a quarter of all freshwater used in the US is “squandered” by creating this wasted food. They demand uniformity in date labelling and point out that food loss per person in the US has doubled since 1974. The European Food Information Council argues that “best before” dates relate to a food item’s quality (EUFIC). On the other side, use-by dates are related to food safety. Food should not be used after its “use by” date, however, it is acceptable to consume food after its “best before” date if it still appears, smells, and tastes well.

Food date labels initially arose after World War II as people increasingly bought at supermarkets rather than farms and small grocery stores – and wanted “the freshest food on the shelf,” according to a Vox piece on food labelling in America. However, according to the news site, food expiration dates “rarely equate to food expiring or rotting.” For food growers and retailers, who frequently have to discard oddly shaped produce or overstocked food that didn’t sell, it represents a significant financial loss. Currently, a lot of the food that is wasted is still perfectly safe to consume and is stacked high in landfills. It’s hazardous for the environment as well.

According to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a UK climate action charity, 70% of the 6.6 million tonnes of food thrown away by UK households every year could have been eaten. United Nations Environment Programme estimates suggest that 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. Ergo, reducing food waste at retail, food service and household level can provide many benefits.

So, what do the food industries are doing now? For a variety of perishable commodities, UK supermarkets are gradually phasing out their expiration dates in favour of the common sense of their customers. The decision also represents a new front in a bleak consumer conflict with rising inflation, despite the claims of the chain shops that it will save customers money and reduce waste. The traditional “best before” or “use by date” dates on some products have been entirely or partially eliminated by Asda, Co-Op, Morrison, Waitrose, Tesco Plc, and Marks & Spencer Group Plc. In some cases, scannable codes have replaced the traditional dates so that store employees can keep an eye out for expired goods.

Morrisons set the trend off by doing away with the indications from 90% of its own-brand milk and advising customers to do a “sniff test” in their place. Asda, a low-cost store is the most recent to adopt the change, eliminating expiration dates on around 250 of its fresh fruits and vegetables as of September 1. From September, Wait Rose, an upscale retailer, will stop using best-before dates on nearly 500 fresh items, including root vegetables, fruit, and indoor plants, while rival M&S will do the same with more than 300 lines of produce. It’s no wonder that, even before this, expired foods had a high demand in the US market. And even the Food and Drug Administration approves of outdated fare.

The government agency concluded that expiration dates are simply a manufacturer’s assessment of the product’s peak quality. According to Dr Ted Labuza, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota, foods can be handled and kept appropriately and can continue to be safe to eat for some time after their sell-by and even use-by dates. This calls for the storage of fresh produce and chilled items at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. According to Labuza, items in cans and products with long shelf lives like salad dressings can be eaten well after their expiration dates. Even while their quality can suffer—emulsified dressings, for instance, could split—they won’t provide a safety risk unless they are contaminated. Federal rules don’t even mandate that product dating be done, except for baby formula and several varieties of baby meals. These approaches are helping to curtail the global hunger level with sustainable consumer culture. It plummets greenhouse gases from possible food waste. This could potentially make the industry more lucrative thereby supporting the downtrodden.

Removing the dates would stop shoppers from confusing the use-by date with the best-before date. Eating food after its use-by date (unless it has been frozen on or before its use-by date) could result in food poisoning. Tesco claimed that households were throwing out perfectly fine food as a result of the confusion. Marks & Spencer aims to encourage customers to use their judgement when throwing away food with this novel approach. From all sides, it’s quite an appreciable measure to tackle grossing food that is thrown away. Despite being a sustainable alternative to food waste, one cannot keep their eyes shut, unequivocally, before the quality constraints that could emerge among consumers.

The food that has been eaten after the figure was printed would not be tasty as it was. The public could not be able to figure out the quality of the meals they are having unless it is properly navigating labelling. On the other hand, a new code will replace all dates on the packaging of the product and the staff of supermarkets will be able to use it to check the quality and freshness of items, which can plummet this concern to an extent. The application of this approach would be much more suitable for perishables including meat and fish while other types of food create an ambiguity in consumption once it is purchased from the retail store. The feasibility of the project is mostly applicable in developed nations, at the same time, in developing countries where literacy and health are at stake, the situation could be totally different which can further overthrow the population into miseries.

In order to make sure that the global population is able to understand the changes, one has to educate them and provide technologies. That’s why this approach is questionable for a diverse society with distinct knowledge and understanding. Critics from the corners of the globe argue that meeting the balance between supply and demand is the solution to food waste in lieu of reducing information given to the public through labelling on food packaging. Extending the shelf life of produce might be acceptable for conventional supermarkets, particularly for products where taste is less important. You want people to taste it at its best in premium stores where essential product items are supposed to be consumed at peak freshness and local seasonality is crucial to brand distinction, not “let’s give it another 3 days and it should be good.”

According to the Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand, “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. Foods that have a best-before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.”

The only food that can have a different date mark on it is bread, which can be labelled with a baked-on or baked-for date if its shelf life is less than seven days. Let’s imagine one has purchased a food product within the expiry period. Are they able to recognize its quality per the given standard? The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissioned research from The University of Hertfordshire to examine what occurs in domestic kitchens in order to evaluate food safety hazards there.

According to the study, most homes did not prioritise food safety, and in some situations, ‘lay’ or ‘common sense knowledge prevailed over professional guidance. An important public health issue, foodborne illness (FBI) causes about one million cases a year in the UK. FDA is caused by eating food that has been tainted with germs or viruses like salmonella and campylobacter. Due to their cooking habits, weakening senses (smell and taste), and greater health requirements, those 60 and older have a higher chance of developing FBI (e.g. due to a compromised immune system). Prior studies had shown that consumers’ knowledge of food safety was often low and that their stated behaviour might not match their real behaviour. These general concerns skyrocket with the new way of labelling practices.

As an individual looking for a healthy life, we have to listen to what experts say about this. “Anything past its use-by date should not be consumed; however, food past its best-before date can be consumed without risk. I firmly believe that in this country, food is wasted far too often. Dan, therefore, has a successful and secure business.” -Love Food, Hate Waste Campaign, Julia Falcon.
“We all have incredibly busy lives, so for many of us, paying attention to the date label and then
understanding what it actually signifies is a step too far. If individuals had better confidence in their understanding of what the dates on food packaging represent, they would consume more of their food before tossing it away.” According to Nutritionist Sam Montell of the Food Standards Agency.

“Food that has passed its best-before date may still be sold in stores. Best before dates are more concerned with quality than safety, so just because the date has gone doesn’t indicate the food is unsafe.”
-Leeds Metropolitan University’s Chris Boothby.


1. Newsome, R., Balestrini, C. G., Baum, M. D., Corby, J., Fisher, W., Goodburn, K., … & Yiannas, F. (2014). Applications and perceptions of date labelling of food. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 13(4), 745-769.

 2. Wilson, N. L., Rickard, B. J., Saputo, R., & Ho, S. T. (2017). Food waste: The role of date labels, package size, and product category. Food Quality and Preference, 55, 35-44.  

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