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Have ‘best-before’ dates expired?

19 April 2011

The UK government is considering reforming the use of ‘best-before’ dates. Currently the law requires all pre-packed food products to display a ‘best-before’ date, however this could change as the government attempts to cut food waste.

The argument goes that consumers rely too much on these labels (which are not an indication that food will be harmful – unlike ‘use-by’ dates). Confusion between labels causes consumers to throw away food that is safe to eat. If the labelling regime changes, consumers would be encouraged to rely on their own common sense to determine if food is fresh.

However ‘best-before’ dates serve an important purpose for manufacturers and retailers. They are an indication to consumers as to when a product is at its best, and can protect against complaints of products being of an unsatisfactory quality. Their use may therefore continue even if a legal obligation no longer exists. Perhaps the government should instead concentrate its efforts on educating the population in matters of food safety.

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