DEFRA publishes UK food-labeling guidelines

by Bryan Salvage
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LONDON – Labels affixed with clearer, less confusing dates will help shoppers save money and cut down on wasted food, said Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published new guidance for UK food and drink manufacturers. This guidance is designed to help ensure accurate dates are marked on food labels to make it easier for shoppers to know when food is safe to eat.

According to this guidance, food packaging should only carry either a ‘use-by’ or ‘best-before’ date. ‘Sell-by’ and ‘display-until’ labels used for stock rotation should be removed to avoid confusion for shoppers. Retailers must find different ways to control stock.

“We want to end the food labeling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat,” Spelman said. This simpler and safer date labeling guide will help households cut down on the £12 billion [US$16.2 billion] worth of good food that ends up in the bin.”

“There is a lot of confusion amongst customers about date marks,” added Liz Redmond, head of Hygiene and Microbiology at the Food Standards Agency. “A number of different dates can be found on our food, so we need to make sure that everyone knows the difference between them. We always emphasize that ‘use-by’ dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety. This new guidance will give greater clarity to the food industry on which date mark should be used on their products while maintaining consumer protection.”

Guidance for food producers outlines that use-by labels should only be used where the food could be unsafe after that date. Most other foods should have a best-before date only, to indicate when the food is no longer at its best, but is still safe to eat.

The guidance is also designed so the food industry can develop more detailed advice for their specific products that minimizes confusion for consumers and food waste while keeping food safe.

Foods likely to require a ‘use-by’ date include soft cheese, ready-prepared meals and smoked fish. Food likely to require only a ‘best-before’ date include biscuits, jams, pickles, crisps and tinned foods.

This guidance was produced in consultation with the food manufacturers, supermarkets, trade associations, consumer groups, food law enforcement bodies and Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP).

At least 60 percent of the 8.3 million tonnes of UK household food and drink waste is avoidable. This amounts to 5.3 million tonnes of edible food per year – the equivalent of £680 (US$917) per household with children. WRAP research has identified date labeling confusion as one cause of this waste.
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