Call for standardised date labels by 2020

The likes of Nestlé, Unilever and Tesco have called for date labels on packaging to be standardised worldwide by the end of the decade in a bid to dramatically cut food waste.

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) – a network of 400 of the biggest consumer goods companies across 70 countries – along with Champions 12.3, want there to be a choice of just two labels.

One would be an expiration date for perishable items (for example, “Use by”), whilst the other would be a food quality indicator for non-perishable items (for example, “Best if used by”). The exact wording will be tailored to regional context.

CGF said the “simplified and consistent date labelling will help us get one step closer to meeting our resolution to halve food waste by 2025 while also helping reduce confusion for consumers”.

In the UK, WRAP is working with government and the Food Standards Agency to update industry guidance on the application of on-pack date and related advice (for example, storage and freezing guidance).

Confusion over date labels and what they mean has been linked to rising levels of food waste. A Eurobarometer survey in September 2015 found that 47% of Europeans understand the meaning of “Best before”, whilst 40% know what “Use by” means. Of the UK respondents, 70% said clearer information on date labels would help them waste less.

The number of different terms applied by brands on some packaged goods has also hindered efforts to redistribute surplus food.

WRAP has proposed “only using ‘Use by’ where there is a food safety reason to use it. Otherwise, making use of ‘Best before’.” A summary of the short consultation it ran on the new guidance is expected this autumn.

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