Scrap best before dates
Having dates on packaging to tell the consumer when their food is likely to go off makes sense. However it is not certain that this should be a 'best before' date especially if there are several other dates on the packets such as 'sell by' and 'use by'. On the one hand it encourages to waste food while on the other it is better to be safe than sorry. Should best before dates be scrapped?
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People have become to reliant on other information
People have become lazy with the way in which they view food. They will eat what they are told is healthy and they will avoid what they are told is unhealthy. People do the same with these apparent best before dates. They unthinkingly refuse to eat something that is beyond its best before date even if had the best before date not been there they would have eaten it without noticing the slightest bit of difference. We should encourage people using their own judgement about their food and their health. One way in which to promote a thinking attitude towards food is to get people to assess the quality of that food based on their own analysis.
Of course, removing the dates will not remove that lazy attitude. By removing the best before date, if products have no date, then people may throw food away for the simple reason that they are unsure of whether the food is right to eat or not. Instead of using their senses or any other God given tools, they will merely sweep the food into the bin. Wrap and the Food Standards Agency have cited confusion as to one of the reasons as to why people throw food that is edible away. Knowing that this is the case, how can they logically argue that taking away the best before date altogether will help the situation?
‘Best Before’ is misleading
Upon seeing a date on food, people will automatically assume hat this date means that after such a time the food is no longer safe to eat. People do not stand and critically assess what the implications of the ‘best before’ date are as opposed to the ‘use by’ date. Consumers feel that if products are required to have a best before date then after that date the food is no longer safe to eat. However, this is quite simply not the case. The best before date means that the food is guaranteed to optimum quality up until that date. The food however is still safe to eat, it just is not guaranteed to taste as the product should. In order to avoid the misapprehension, the use of the best before date should be scrapped.
Taken as simple wording, the best before date is not misleading at all. The food is best before the following date. This is use as simple and easy to understand as the use by date; use this product by this date; sell this product by this date. All very easy plain wording. There is no jargon no misleading connotations. How this wording can be described as misleading is beyond comprehension. We cannot try to blame the fact hat Britain is a wasteful spoilt country by blaming the wording of dates. Quite simply Britain feels wealthy enough to throw away food that is lightly off the mark of perfection. What is needed then is a reality check, not an overhaul of a simple dating system.
The best before date leads to food being wasted
The latest estimate is that 3 million tonnes of perfectly edible foods are thrown away every year due to best before dates[[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/7527435/Tonnes-of-edible-food-dumped-in-the-bin-says-FSA.html]]. When we have campaigns to stop poverty, when we have people living on the streets of London and 3rd world starvation how can we stand by a date that is causing such a waste of edible food. The crisps maybe slightly less crisp, the rice may take longer to cook and may not reach optimum softness but this food is still edible and still contains nutrients which a lot of people do not have. To campaign for the use of this date is to campaign for ungrateful waste.
Yes, nearly 3 million tones of food is wasted every year. However, to get an accurate picture of what is casing this we need to further analyse the results of the study conducted by the Government agency Wrap.
If we look at this then, only one sixth of the food wasted is expressly linked to the best before date. Therefore, scrapping the best before date will not make the dramatic impact that Wrap and the Food Standards Agency seem to be suggesting.
The best before date tells us nothing
If it does not smell, look or feel good then the reality is that it is not good. This is the simple principle on which we should make the decisions on what we eat. The best before date gives no other information than what we can tell with our own senses. The only difference being that our sense could give a more reliable picture on the edibility of the food.
The only exception to this rule should be with meat, poultry, fish and eggs. These products can cause serious harm if eaten when they are spoiling. These foods need a ‘use by date’. This is a specific date by which the food should be eaten by; otherwise the food is hazardous to health. This is when people need to be warned off food via a dating system.
What about the people who do not have these senses? What about those who are too young to interpret those senses? What if we are trying a food that we have never tried before and so we do not know what it is supposed to look or smell like? This can be especially true for smelly foods such as cheese! In all these situations the best before date does tell us something. It is a guide to action.
Scrapping best before dates will increase consumer confidence in date marks.
With the public at large being unaware of the implications and differences between the use by, sell by and best before date, one way to improve consumer confidence in the system is to simplify the system. We should only have ‘use by’ dates. This is the date that gives us the most valuable information. If it is the only date on a packet then it will be unequivocal to a consumer that this is the date by which they should not eat the food contained within that packet. The consistency across different food groups would also be welcome.
We only need to ensure consistency
The only thing that we need to change is the consistency of the labelling. Within some food industries differing types of dates are used. Cheese for example, some products give us only a use by date, others give us an additional best before date and many products now also give a sell by date. We should not merely scrap any of these dates, as people should be able to make an informed choice about what they will and will not eat. In order to ensure this then, we need to have consistency. Quite to the contrary of scrapping any of these dates, we should make all of them compulsory. It is only by making all this information known that consumers can make a fully informed choice about what they are buying and eating.
Surely this is two solutions which are trying to meet the same objective. The difference is that ensuring consistency across every industry for every food type is an incredulous task in comparison to merely doing away with the best before date. Getting rid of the best before date altogether will be far more efficient. Ensuring consistency across all the differing industries and food types will be an impossible task for the British Retail Consortium. In any case, surely not having any best before dates creates the greatest consistency?
Best before and sell by dates can decrease wastage
If we were to scrap all dates except the use by dates, it could be the case that food wastage will increase.
Sell by dates were introduced by Marks & Spencer in the 1950’s [[http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/money/captaincrunch/2479673/Captain-Crunch-Is-it-time-to-shelve-sell-by-dates.html]]. This was done primarily to ensure adequate stock rotation by staff members. Best before dates are also used by stores in order to stock their shelves.
If these dates were not there, then many food products would go spoiled as older stock was left at the back of the shelf with newer products being piled up in front. The effect of taking away best before dates then would be that maybe the consumer would waste more food, but the seller would waste just as much if not more.
Savvy consumers can get bargains from these dates!!
Yes many food products go to waste with this system of dating. However, for those who are scrapped for cash, the best before date can afford them great discounts on their shopping. Take for example Approved Food. This online trading company sells products that are nearing or have passed their best before date. This is legal. This is safe and people can snag a bargain from this website. If we eradicate the best before date, such bargains would not be there to have. Instead the food would be left to spoil in stores.
It is our education that needs an overhaul.
Yet another way in which the Government are deflecting their real duties. What the Government is doing is placing the food wastage problem with the producers and sellers of food. It is for this reason that the British Retail Consortium was consulted. The Government is pointing the finger at the way in which stores label their food. Instead surely what the Government should do is educate its citizens. It is our education that needs improving, not the simple labelling system. If our schools can not produce a nation that understand the meaning of ‘use by’ ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ then it shows us that something is wrong with our education system!
But surely this is what the British consortium is doing when they try to place the blame on the Government. Let us face facts. Neither the Government nor the BRC want to spend money in order for less food to be wasted. They each think the other should foot the bill. However, surely by getting the Government to implement a clear policy on dates, by scrapping best before dates, they are still working. It is not the case that it is left to the retailers to implement. The Government will give the advice; all the BRC would need to do is follow the guidelines. Yes, their packaging would need to be changed, but this is of little consequence in the wider scheme of food wastage and its consequences.
What do you think?