UK Grocers are Removing “Best Before” Date Labels

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
date labels

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. 

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