Use by or best before: time to reconsider which you use?
Sustainability is a key driver of change in food production today and food producers and retailers are striving to provide the best customer experience whilst reducing waste. One area of activity is to swap from hard ‘use by’ dates to ‘best before’ dates; and encourage and educate the consumer to evaluate a product’s quality rather than throwing it away just because it is slightly past the stated date.
Drive for change
Food waste has always been an important consideration; however, it has gained greater momentum in recent years with the activity of organisations such as WRAP and the Food Standards Agency, as well as greater public awareness through campaigns for sustainability. Retailers in the UK – such as Waitrose, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and ASDA – have announced programmes to reconsider their use of best before and use by dates. Best before dates are not as rigid and the public are encouraged to examine the sight, smell and appearance of foods such as milk to help determine if it is usable after opening.
ASDA has recently changed to best before dates on over half its own-brand yoghurts, whilst Morrisons has swapped to best before dates on their own-brand milk to help reduce the 490 million pints of milk which are wasted every year in the UK.
Regulations and considerations
Use by and best before dates cannot be used interchangeably, each product has to be evaluated from a microbiological and regulatory standpoint to ensure it will remain safe for the consumer. Regulations such as (EU) 1169/2011 (provision of food information to consumers), and (EU) 178/2002 (governing the general principles of food law and product safety) must be followed.
WRAP guidance states that use by dates should be used where there is a food safety reason to use it. For example, products which are highly perishable from a microbiological point of view and are likely to constitute an immediate danger to human health within a short period, such as fresh meat, poultry and fish, chilled ready meals and cooked meats and sandwiches. In addition, clear communication on correct storage and maximising product ‘open’ and ‘closed’ life will also help reduce waste.
All forms of expiry date must be based upon robust scientific evidence and have been validated. This can be performed in a number of ways, including desk-based risk assessment including microbiological modelling or by practical laboratory-based shelf life or challenge testing.
Understanding expiry dates
Leatherhead’s multidisciplinary team supports all aspects of expiry dates. We can advise on regulatory requirements, the safety aspects of plastic and waste reduction, as well as design and execute testing and modelling to support changes to best before dates.
If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch via [email protected]. Leatherhead’s experienced team of scientists and regulatory experts, including former regulators and industry advocates, can help support you every step of the way.