Press release

Expiry date for confusing date labels

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The updated guidance will ensure the right date marks are used on food labels making it easier for shoppers to know food is safe to eat.

Clearer date labels will help shoppers save money and stop perfectly good food being thrown away, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said today as Defra published new guidance for food and drink manufacturers.

The updated guidance will help ensure the right date marks are used on food labels to make it easier for shoppers to know when food is safe to eat.

Under the guidance, food packaging should only carry either a ‘use-by’ or ‘best-before’ date.  ‘Sell-by’ and ‘display-until’ labels used for stock rotation should be removed to avoid confusion for shoppers, with retailers finding different ways of stock control.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:

“We want to end the food labelling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat. This simpler and safer date labelling guide will help households cut down on the £12 billion worth of good food that ends up in the bin.”

Liz Redmond, Head of Hygiene and Microbiology at the FSA said:

“There is a lot of confusion amongst customers about date marks. A number of different dates can be found on our food, so we need to make sure that everyone knows the difference between them.  We always emphasise that “use by” dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety. This new guidance will give greater clarity to the food industry on which date mark should be used on their products while maintaining consumer protection.”

The guidance for food producers outlines that ‘use-by’ labels should only be used where the food could be unsafe after that date.  Most other foods should have a ‘best-before’ date only, to indicate when the food is no longer at its best, but is still safe to eat.

The guidance is also designed so the food industry can develop more detailed advice for their specific products that minimises confusion for consumers and food waste while keeping food safe.

Foods likely to require a ‘use-by’ date include soft cheese, ready-prepared meals and smoked fish.

Food likely to require only a ‘best-before’ date include biscuits, jams, pickles, crisps and tinned foods.

The guidance was produced in consultation with the food manufacturers, supermarkets, trade associations, consumer groups, food law enforcement bodies and Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

At least 60% of the 8.3 million tonnes of UK household food and drink waste is avoidable. That is 5.3 million tonnes of perfectly edible food per year - the equivalent of £680 per household with children.  WRAP research has identified confusion over date labelling as one of the causes of this.

Notes to editors

The new guide, Guidance to the Application of Date Marks to Food, can be found at the link below:

According to WRAP, UK households could potentially save up to £50 a month by not throwing out the £12 billion or 5.3 million tonnes of avoidable food waste.