Sustainable Converting

Date Marking: A Chance to Prevent Food Waste

Domino Printing Sciences group business development director, Lee Metters looks at the differing international food dating practices and requirements, and considers the potential that improved consistency and clarity around food labelling could have in reducing waste


educing food waste is a global endeavour. Goal 12 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) is to “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”, including an objective to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030”.

Member states have embraced the initiative, with regulators such as the European Commission, amongst others, reviewing standards around retailers’ ability to donate surplus food. Many UK retailers, brand owners, manufacturers, and suppliers have also signed up to deliver the targets of the Courtauld Commitment 2025 aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing waste within the UK grocery sector. As a result, the industry has embraced new solutions and technologies to reduce food waste, including resealable packs, smaller pack sizes, and split packs, as well as efforts to increase product shelf life by implementing efficiencies to delivery and store systems.

But what about the most significant cause of consumer food waste – food expiration?

EXAMINING TERMINOLOGY According to research from The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) 7.3million tonnes of food is wasted each year in the UK. Some 660,000 tonnes of that waste is, in some way, down to the date labelling – accounting for nearly 10% of the total. This is due, in part, to how different shoppers can interpret date labelling on food packaging. The challenge is exacerbated by the differing use of terms and regulations around food dating. Until recently, ‘display until’ and ‘sell by’ were a common sight in UK retailers, and across the EU, often seen alongside ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. While, in the USA, with no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels, consumers are confronted by ‘expiration’, ‘use by’, ‘best by’, ‘sell by’, ‘best if used by’, ‘best through’ – the list goes on.

However, ther than ‘use by’, none of these dates relate to product safety. For example, ‘best before’, ‘best by’ and ‘best if used by’ indicate when a product will be of best flavour or quality, while ‘display until’ and ‘sell by’ tell a retailer how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. In 2017, WRAP, in conjunction with the

UK Government’s FSA and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), brought out new guidance for retailers to give shoppers simple, more consistent date label advice. The document ‘Labelling Guidance – Best practice on food date labelling and storage advice’ advocates best practice as “only having one date label on a single product.”

The guidance also recommends only applying ‘use by’ when there is a food safety reason to do so and provides help regarding when to use additional information such as storage and freezing instructions. It is worth noting that WRAP’s document is intended to be used in conjunction with the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, the Food Information Regulations 2014 and related guidance, and is not intended to replace the guidance already in place.

FOOD DATING STANDARDS EXAMINED While dating standards differ from country to country, there is a distinction between dates related to product quality and those related to consumer safety, health, and wellbeing. In the UK, food consulting and research


December/January 2021

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