Use-by vs Best-before dates: What’s the difference as Waitrose removes dates from 500 products

·4-min read
UK households and supermarkets throw away tonnes of edible food every year (PA Archive)
UK households and supermarkets throw away tonnes of edible food every year (PA Archive)

Waitrose has advised shoppers to eat tinned foods once a week to cut down on food waste, as it announces its plans to remove the best-before dates on nearly 500 of its products.

From September, the supermarket chain will scrap the dates on packaged fruit and vegetable to encourage consumers to use their own judgment about whether food has gone off.

Removing the dates on fresh products, including root vegetables, fruits and indoor plants, will save the equivalent of 7 million shopping baskets of food from being dumped in the bin, according to Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap).

Alongside the announcement, the grocer also issued guidance for shoppers to help them reduce food waste, as about 70 per cent of all food wasted in the UK is thrown away at home, with almost three-quarters are still good to eat.

Marija Rompani, director of sustainability and ethics at John Lewis Partnership, which owns Waitrose, said: “UK households throw away 4.5 million tonnes of edible food every year, meaning that all the energy and resources used in food production is wasted.

“By removing best-before dates from our products, we want our customers to use their own judgment to decide whether a product is good to eat or not, which in turn will increase its chances of being eaten and not becoming waste.

“By using up existing fresh food in our homes, we can also save on our weekly household food shop, which is becoming an increasingly pressing concern for many.”

Experts at Wrap said best-before dates on fruit and vegetables are unnecessary and contribute to climate change.

Catherine David, director of collaboration and change at Wrap, said: “Best-before dates on fruit and veg are unnecessary and create food waste because they get in the way of people using their judgment when food is still good to eat.

“We are absolutely delighted by this move from Waitrose, which will help stop good food ending up in the bin.

“We estimate that removing dates on fresh fruit and veg could save the equivalent of 7 million shopping baskets of food from the bin, which is huge.”

The cost of food and drink has risen 12.6% year-on-year as of July 2022. So, if a food item cost £1 in July 2021, it was likely to cost an extra 12.6p by July 2022. That means it’s now more important than ever to avoid food waste and in turn, to avoid having to pay more to replace food that has gone off.

But, what is the difference between use-by dates, best-before and sell-by dates? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is a use-by date?

A use-by date on food is about safety and is the most important date to take note of. The UK’s Food Standards Agency advise that you can eat food until and on the use-by date, but not after it. Use-by dates appear on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products or ready-mixed salads.

Rather than a guide, it’s a food safety warning that should be taken seriously, so it’s also important to carefully follow the storage instructions.

For example, if the instructions tell you to refrigerate after opening, you should keep the food in a fridge at 5C or below.

After the use-by date, it’s advised not to cook or freeze food, as it could be unsafe to eat or drink even if it has been stored correctly and looks and smells fine.

What is a best-before date?

Best-before dates are designed to show food quality rather than how safe it is eat, Waitrose said.

The best before date, sometimes shown as BBE (best before end), is about quality, not safety. The food will still be safe to eat after this date, but may not be at its best.

For example, its flavour and texture might not be as good. Best-before dates appear on a wide range of foods, including:

  • frozen foods

  • dried foods

  • tinned foods

  • fruit and vegetables

The best-before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the packaging.

What is a sell-by date?

Sell by dates are only for use by the retailer, to help them better control stock while the product is on the shelf, same with display until dates.