East Malling researchers greet sell-by date axe as opportunity for labelling education

Fruit and plant experts at East Malling Research (EMR) have welcomed Government moves to scrap sell-by date labels as part of a major initiative to combat food waste.

Defra said five-million tonnes of edible food and drink, with a combined cost of up to £12bn, was discarded by UK households each year. This equates to £680 for the average family.

Ministers have now issued guidance to food producers and retailers that advises them to only use best-before dates as opposed to sell-by and display-until labels.

The move is likely to have a major impact on the fresh produce industry, with fruit and vegetables making up at least 34 per cent of the UK's avoidable food waste. Potatoes, apples, bananas, lettuce, tomatoes and cabbages featured among the most common products being dumped each year.

EMR produce quality centre manager Dr Neil Hipps said: "Sell-by dates are predominantly used by retailers for stock control, whereas use-by dates relate to safety and best-before is merely a recommendation."

He added: "Removing sell-by dates reduces confusion and helps consumers waste less food. Our organisation welcomes any measure that will reduce waste in the home, whether that is fresh produce such as fruit, meats or otherwise.

"We feel that the Government's step is one in the right direction. However, we also feel there is an opportunity to help educate consumers, letting them know what each label means."

Waste Study - Consumer confusion

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which runs the Government's Love Food Hate Waste campaign, has revealed that in the UK 5.1 million potatoes, 4.4 million apples and 2.8 million tomatoes are thrown away every day.

During their research, funded by WRAP, scientists from East Malling Research discovered that consumers were generally ill-informed about the best ways to store different fruit and vegetables.

EMP produce quality centre manager Dr Neil Hipps said: "The best-before dates applied to non-processed fruits and vegetables are purely advisory.

"During our research into the labelling and storage of fresh produce, we found that the time interval between sell-by and best-before date labels was often standardised across the range of fruit and vegetables - irrespective of the degree of perishability of particular products.

"It will save a great deal of misunderstanding and waste if consumers use their own judgement about whether their fruit and vegetables are okay to use and eat."


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