Sell-by dates ‘news’ is a media storm in a teacup

By Anne Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

Label confusion: "Nothing has changed," industry sources told us
Label confusion: "Nothing has changed," industry sources told us
“Nothing has changed” on food date labelling, insist industry sources, as moves to drop sell-by dates from food packaging hit the headlines this morning.

Chilled Food Association director Kaarin Goodburn told that “no-one uses sell-by dates anyway​”.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) surveyed 10,000 food products two years ago and found only a couple which used sell-by dates, she said.

Less visible

New guidance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, suggests any sell-by or display-until dates, which are used purely for stock control reasons, should be made “less visible to consumers”.

According to WRAP research, 'display until' is often interpreted as 'use by,' leading to consumers throwing away £12bn of edible food a year.

Under the guidance from DEFRA, developed working with the food industry, foods which could become dangerous to eat - including soft cheese, ready meals and smoked fish - require a use-by date.

Foods that may lose quality but are still safe to eat – such as biscuits, jams, pickles, crisps and tinned foods - require a best-before date.


At present, the EU Food Labelling Directive 2000/13 provides for a use-by date. The legislation states it should be used: “ the case of foodstuffs which, from the microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health​”.

Goodburn said: “Only the EU can legislate on labelling and this guidance changes nothing.”

Related topics: Business News, Regulation

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