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Food labelling

  • The Government aims to reduce consumer confusion by improving the way date marks are applied to and communicated in relation to food products, making it much clearer what is and is not safe.
  • Storage guidance will also be improved so that consumers understand how to store food to get the most out of it and avoid wasting it.

What’s going to happen?

  • One aspect is the review and updating of Food Standards Agency (FSA) industry guidance that is currently being conducted.  This will help to ensure that date marks are more appropriately applied on food labels.  The FSA have key responsibility for food labelling policy in the UK.
  • The new improved guidance will improve the clarity and consistency of date marking on food labels, making it much easier for consumers to understand and have confidence in it.
  • Consideration is being given to the best means of ensuring that “Display until” dates do not cause confusion among consumers. This could mean, for example, making “display until” dates less visible to consumers. “Display until" dates, used by retailers for stock control purposes, are not legally required, and can be mistakenly interpreted as indications of food quality or safety, thus diluting the clear and consistent messages given by legally-required date marks.

Who is doing this?

  • The government is working together with enforcement, the food industry, the Food Standards Agency and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) on this initiative.

Why are we doing this?

  • Research has shown that confusion about what food labels and storage guidance means is leading to significant amounts of food being wasted, as well as in some cases risks potentially being taken with food safety.
  • “Use by” dates indicate time during which food is safe to eat. “Best before” dates indicate a period in which food is of optimum quality and after which it is may still perfectly edible but may decline in quality. These are mandated by law.
  • Research shows consumers frequently confuse “Use by” and “Best before” dates, and end up throwing away perfectly edible food that has passed its “Best before“ date, whilst eating food that has past its ‘use by’ date and which may therefore potentially be unsafe.
  • “Display until” dates are not legally required, but are stock control dates used by retailers. However, evidence suggests they can be misinterpreted by consumers as indications of food safety/quality, with perfectly good food being thrown away as a consequence. “Sell by” dates were once used for similar purposes although these are now scarcely used and we are working to phase them out completely.
  • In the UK, 370,000 tonnes of food is misguidedly thrown away each year after passing its “best before” date, with a further 40,000 tonnes not even opened by consumers. This was all still edible when thrown away – unlike the 440,000 tonnes of food thrown away yearly after its “use by” date. An additional 220,000 tonnes of food is thrown away whilst still in date.
  • Research also shows that consumers often lack confidence in date labelling: 53% of consumers would never eat fresh fruit and vegetables past the “best before” date; 56% would never eat bread and cakes past the “best before” date; and almost 10% leave a day’s ‘buffer’ before any date. 21% would never “take a risk” with any food close to its date, even if it appeared fine.

Labelling of food from the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Advice to retailers and importers who wish to respond to consumer demand for information about the origin of food that has been produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is available. The advice will help retailers and importers to consider how best to respond to consumer demand for information about the origin of food that has been produced in the OPT.

Further information

Page last modified: 15 February 2010
Page published: 15 June 2009