Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Policy name: Removal of “best before” labels on food
Overview: Grocery stores in the UK are removing “best before” date labels on packaged produce in an effort to reduce food waste.
Location: United Kingdom
Population: 68.7 million
Food policy category: Food waste, food security
Program goals: To reduce household food waste.
How it works: Waitrose and Marks & Spencer grocery stores will stop using “best before” dates on hundreds of fresh produce items.
- Waitrose is removing the dates from close to 500 varieties of packaged fresh produce, including lettuce, cucumber, peppers, potted herbs, salad onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, celery, potatoes, root vegetables, brassica vegetables, leeks, melons, pineapples, apples, pears, citruses, plums, grapes, and exotic fruits. Consumers are advised to use their best judgment when purchasing and eating these items.
- Marks & Spencer is replacing “best before” dates with a code that staff members will use to determine the freshness and quality of produce sold in their stores. The new labeling initiative will affect 85 percent of the company’s fresh produce, including apples, potatoes, and broccoli.
Progress to date: In February 2022, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) released a report highlighting recent research and recommendations regarding the reduction of household food waste and plastic packaging. One of the recommendations was to remove date labels from uncut fresh produce. Marks & Spencer began removing date labels on fresh produce in July 2022, and Waitrose will begin removing them in September 2022.
Why it is important: According to WRAP, 70 percent of edible food, including almost 500,000 metric tons (551,155 US tons) of fresh vegetables and 250,000 metric tons (275,577 US tons) of fresh fruit are thrown away in UK homes each year. Fruit and vegetable waste alone amounts to £2.1 billion ($2.5 billion) of waste. The amount of food wasted in the UK each year could make the equivalent of more than 15 billion meals. Instead, it is associated with more than 25 metric tons (28 US tons) of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Removal of “best before” date labels may encourage consumers to eat the produce they have at home rather than throwing it out so long as it appears fresh.
Program/Policy initiated: Waitrose will no longer use “best before” dates on produce starting in September. Marks & Spencer started removing their “best before” dates in mid-July.
Point of contact: N/A
Similar practices: UK grocers Co-op and Morrisons are no longer using “use by” dates on dairy products including store-brand yogurt at Co-op and store-brand milk at Morrisons, and are using “best before” dates instead.
Evaluation: Evaluation regarding the impact on household food waste has not been conducted. Some have expressed concern that the removal of date labels puts too much responsibility on the consumer and may actually increase food waste. The grocery store Lidl, however, has never used date labels on fresh produce and claims that it has a positive impact on reducing food waste.
- Confused by Date Labels on Packaged Foods? (United States Food and Drug Administration)
- The Lie of “Expired” Food and the Disastrous Truth of America’s Food Waste Problem (Vox)
- Out Of Date? Marks & Spencer Rethinks Best Before Dates To Help Tackle Food Waste Crisis (Forbes)
- Supermarket Ditches ‘Best Before’ Dates, Asks Shoppers to Use Their Own Judgment (Treehugger)
- Supermarkets Move to Simplify Date Labels to Cut Food Waste (The Wall Street Journal)
- UK’s Retailer Waitrose to Scrap ‘Best Before’ Date on Fresh Products (Global Times)
- Understanding Date Labels (Lidl)
- Which European Country is Ditching Best Before Dates in Supermarkets and Why? (EuroNews)
- Why Time is Running Out for Best Before Dates on Fruit & Vegetables (The Grocer)
- Action on Food Waste (WRAP)
- Canadian Researcher Says Scrapping “Best Before” Dates Will Not Reduce UK Food Waste (Food Ingredients First)
- Evidence and Insights: Reducing Household Food Waste and Plastic Packaging (WRAP)
- Food Date Labelling (WRAP)
- M&S Banishes Best Before Date: Brilliant or Bonkers? (Retail Gazette)
- M&S Removes Best Before Dates Across Fruit and Veg in Bid to Tackle Food Waste (Marks & Spencer)
- M&S to Remove ‘Best Before’ Labels from 300 Fruit and Veg Items to Cut Food Waste (The Guardian)
- Morrisons Scrapping ‘Use By’ Dates From Milk to Help Customers Reduce Waste (Morrisons Corporate)
- Reducing Household Food Waste and Plastic Packaging (WRAP)
- Smell Will Tell: Co-op Scraps “Use By” Dates on Own-Brand Yogurts for Food Waste Reduction (Packaging Insights)
- Spoiler Alert! Waitrose to Remove Best Before Dates on Nearly 500 Products from September (Waitrose & Partners)
- UK Retailers Take ‘Best Before’ Dates Off Produce (Food Processing)
- Waitrose Removes Best-Before Dates from Fresh Food to Reduce Waste (The Guardian)