Should ‘best by’ dates expire?
Carrefour is launching a social media campaign asking consumers to help choose new wording to replace “best before” on food packaging. France’s largest food retailer said the phrase is misleading and is responsible for 20 percent of households’ food wastage.
Among the replacement options (in English):
- To be eaten before the mm/yy, but not imperatively!
- To be eaten before the mm/yy, because it’s better before!
- To be eaten before the mm/yy for optimum enjoyment
Carrefour has already scrapped best-before dates on 100 of its own products (e.g., sugar, salt, vinegar) and extended the best-before or use-by dates on 400 fresh and grocery products.
In efforts to further reduce food, Tesco this year removed best-before dates from 186 fruits and vegetables. Commissioned research from Tesco revealed 69 percent of U.K. customers believe scrapping best-before dates is a good idea. Fifty-three percent felt removing best-before dates makes a difference, helping them keep perfectly good food for longer.
“Best before” — as well as “Best by” and “Best if used by” — have replaced “Use by” and “Sell By” in many categories to help reduce food waste, but many consumers remain confused that such phrases refer to spoilage rather than taste. Retailers generally use “Use by” or “Sell by” labeling on meats and fish but use a variety of expiration dates on eggs and dairy.
A study this year from the Université du Québec à Montréal based on interviews with grocery stockroom managers found shoppers often reach to the back of shelves to grab items with the most distant best-before date. Grocers were found to throw away perfectly edible items whose best-before dates had passed or were close to passing due to reputation concerns.
A 2016 survey from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic found that 84 percent of respondents occasionally throw away food that is past its labeled date and a third of respondents “usually” or “always” do.
- Tackling food waste: Carrefour joins forces with Too Good to Go – Carrefour
- Tesco banishes more best before dates as shoppers say it helps reduce food waste – Tesco
- Tesco to remove ‘best before’ dates off selected fruit and vegetable lines to help cut down on food waste – Tesco
- Consumer attitudes to ‘best before’ dates contribute to food waste, UQAM study finds – CBC
- Overview of Responsible Consumption in Quebec – Louis Bonduelle Foundation
- The expiration dates on our food could be contributing to a huge environmental problem – The Washington Post
- Consumer Perceptions of Date Labels: National Survey – Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What’s your solution to reducing consumer confusion over expiration dates? Is removing or re-wording best-by labeling feasible or are there better options?