Written by Jana Valant
The ‘best before’ date, that is the recommended last consumption date, is often confused with the ‘use by’ date, intended for foods that are highly perishable (such as fresh meat or dairy products). Recent consumer market surveys in the EU show that only a third of consumers are able to correctly interpret the meaning of the ‘best before’ date. While knowledge of labelling seems to be better in some countries, consumers throughout the EU have difficulties in understanding the labelling scheme.
Food labelling rules have been put in place to protect consumers and allow them to make informed choices when buying foodstuffs. Labelling therefore concerns not only the EU agri-food sector and its economic weight, but also its 500 million consumers.
Recently some Member States have proposed to scrap ‘best before’ labelling for certain products like coffee, pasta and rice that have a long shelf-life. This change would help to prevent food waste, which accounts for 90 to 100 million tonnes of food annually in Europe alone, and this figure is expected to grow.
The proposed labelling change could therefore be a solution not only to help end the current confusion among consumers but also to reduce food waste. Food losses occur upstream in the food supply chain, and also because of retailer negligence and consumer misinterpretation of labelling.