Europe Challenging Use of the Misleading “Best Before” Date

Stop Wasting Food

Europe wastes about 90 million tonnes of food a year. (That’s almost 100 million US tons. See my note below for helpful conversion information.) And they’re determined to take a big bite out of that number by tackling those confusing “Best Before” dates stamped on food products.

It started with the Netherlands and Swedish delegations of the Council of the European Union. Last month, they requested an agenda item to talk about food waste at the next Council meeting, acknowledging in the request that “there may be various legislative areas where measures can be taken [to reduce food waste], but let us first focus on the ’Best before’ date. In many European countries date labeling is causing unnecessary food waste.” Dutch research shows that about 15% of food waste is due to food labeling regulations.

In Europe, packaged foods must be stamped with a “Best Before” date. But this date relates solely to a product’s quality (taste, texture, smell), not its safety. The dates are set by the manufacturer, mostly for marketing reasons. Hmmm. Sounds familiar, right? Just like the “use by,” “best before,” “best by,” “sell by,” “enjoy by,” “best if used by,” “for maximum freshness,” and “for best quality” dates used in the US. Products usually remain edible past those dates — lots of them can be safely consumed for many, many years — but buyers don’t know that and toss perfectly good food without thinking.

The Dutch and Swedish proposed creating an extended list of products to make exempt from regulations requiring the “Best Before” date — products with long shelf lives and extended periods of good quality, like rice, noodles, and coffee. The suggestion was positively received by the Council. The European Commission (the EU executive body) established a working group on food waste and promised a report on food sustainability to come in late June.

Europe has been talking about food waste reduction for years. The European Commission hosts educational information about food waste on its web site. It also funded a 4-year project named FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) to improve the efficiency of EU’s use of resources by reducing food waste. Let’s hope strategic changes in food labeling are soon to come and that they will bring along similar changes in the US.

A note on tonnes: Please don’t laugh, but I had no idea what a “tonne” was, so I had to look it up. If you want to know, read on. I learned a tonne is a metric measurement equivalent to 1,000 kilograms. Which is about 1.1 tons. Short tons that is. Did you know there are short tons and long tons? I had to look that up also. A short ton is the ton I’m familiar with — 2,000 pounds as used in the US. A long ton is a British ton — 2,240 pounds. I hope this comes in handy during your next Trivial Pursuit game.

What do you think about this news?

Image Credit: Stop Wasting Food via Shutterstock

1 thought on “Europe Challenging Use of the Misleading “Best Before” Date”

  1. The large amount of fresh food waste is a lose-lose situation for the environment, the struggling families in today’s tough economy and for the food retailers. There is no single cure, or silver bullet for food waste reduction therefore, we should address the food waste problem in every link in our food supply chain. For example, the excess inventory of fresh perishables close to their expiration on supermarket shelves, combined with the consumer “Last In First Out” shopping behavior, might be the weakest link of the fresh food supply chain.
    The new open GS1 DataBar standard enables applications that encourage efficient
    consumer shopping by offering him automatic and dynamic purchasing incentives for fresh perishables approaching their expiration dates before they end up in a landfill.
    The “End Grocery Waste” App, which is based on the open GS1 DataBar standard,
    encourages efficient consumer shopping behavior that maximizes grocery retailer revenue, makes fresh food affordable for all families and effectively reduces the global carbon footprint.

    Rod Averbuch
    Chicago, IL

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