Have you ever wondered why perfectly edible food ends up in the bin? Misinterpreted date labels are a major culprit, especially in the food service and retail industries.  Confusing “Best Before” with “Use By” can lead businesses to throw away good stock, hurting their bottom line and contributing to a global environmental issue.

Here at Central Waste, we believe managing food waste effectively is a win-win. It benefits the environment and your business’s wallet.  In this article, we’ll explore date labels, their impact on food waste, and how businesses can become waste-wiser.

Understanding the Label Lingo

Let’s break down the most common date labels on food packaging:

  • Best Before: This indicates when a product’s quality and freshness might start to decline, but it’s still perfectly safe to eat if stored properly. Think of yoghurt past its “Best Before” – it might not taste quite as good, but it won’t make you sick.
  • Use By: This is a safety zone. Food past its “Use By” date could harbour harmful bacteria, so it’s best to avoid it.
  • Sell By: This is primarily for retailers, indicating when they should remove the product from their shelves. It doesn’t necessarily mean the food is unsafe after that date – just that it might not be at peak quality.

The High Cost of Confusion

The problem is, consumers and businesses often misunderstand these labels. A perfectly good tub of yoghurt past its “Best Before” gets tossed, simply because someone thought it was unsafe.  A study by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) found that clarifying date labels could prevent hundreds of thousands of tons of food waste annually. That translates to significant cost savings for businesses too.

Strategies for Businesses

So, how can food businesses combat food waste caused by date confusion? Here are some key strategies:

  • Educate Your Staff: Train employees on the different types of date labels. This ensures they handle products correctly throughout their lifespan, preventing unnecessary waste.
  • Empower Your Customers: Clear labelling that explains the meaning of “Best Before” and “Use By” can make a big difference. Additionally, providing tips on proper storage and handling through marketing channels can extend the life of food customers take home.
  • Embrace FIFO (First In, First Out): This inventory management technique ensures older stock gets used first, minimising the risk of perfectly good food reaching its “Use By” date before being sold. Technology like digital tracking systems can further streamline this process and alert staff to expiring items.
  • Become a Food Hero: Partner with food banks or charities such as Too Good To Go. Donating surplus food nearing its “Best Before” date but still perfectly safe to eat helps reduce waste and supports the community.
  • Rethink Your Labels: Some businesses are re-evaluating their labelling practices. Removing unnecessary “Sell By” dates and focusing on clear “Use By” for safety and “Best Before” for quality can reduce customer confusion and waste.

The Future of Food Waste Reduction

Technology is also playing a part in the fight against food waste. Smart packaging that monitors food quality, apps that suggest recipes based on what’s in your fridge, and AI-powered inventory management are all helping businesses utilise food more efficiently.

At Central Waste, we’re passionate about helping Merseyside businesses manage waste effectively. We offer specialised recycling solutions and expert advice on best practices.  By taking a closer look at date labelling and implementing these strategies, food businesses can significantly reduce waste, improve their bottom line, and become more sustainable.

Let’s work together to create a waste-smarter future for our community. Contact Central Waste today to discuss how we can help your business become a champion against food waste!