Abolishing sell-by dates. Expert comment by Dr David Jukes (Food and Nutritional Sciences)
Release Date 15 September 2011
"Today's announcement of new guidance might assist some consumers and avoid some food wastage but don't expect it to be significant. Providing clearer advice and education on how to identify and interpret the information that is legally required (‘use by' and ‘best before') would be more effective.
"The law on the date marking of food is clear. Consumers have to be given information enabling them to eat a food safely. Food products which are susceptible to decay and could cause illness as a result are required by law to have a ‘use by' date. Other products are required to have a ‘best before' date. This has been legally required since the adoption of harmonised EU wide legislation in 1979 so we have all had over 30 years to recognise these dates.
"Before this though retailers had adopted the ‘sell by' date as a means of demonstrating to consumers that their food was subject to safety and quality controls, and the term entered into common use. Perhaps this is part of the problem.
"These days the use of supplementary codes (‘sell by' or ‘display until') is purely for stock control purposes but, correctly interpreted, they can provide reassurance to consumers. Retailers use them as a way of ensuring that they don't sell food at the very end of its life, they give consumers a bit of time before it reaches the end of its life. The food industry works hard to keep costs down and provide a safe supply of quality food at affordable prices. These codes are part of their systems for doing this."