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20.05.2014QSL s.r.o.

EU campaign against wasting food and the difference between the use-by date and best before date

It is said that up to 89 millions of tons of food are wasted by Europeans every year. Not only spoilt food but also food that is not detrimental to human health. How is it possible? In terms of durability, we can divide food into three kinds.

First, there are the products, in which we can more or less exactly set the period, after which they gain such chemical-physical properties that they become inedible. In other words, they are spoilt. Such product need to be obligatorily have indicated the use-by date. Nobody should consume such product after its expiry date.

On the other pole of the durability spectrum, there are foods that practically cannot get spoilt. For example spirits, sugar, salt. There is no need to indicate any date on such products.

Then there are food products that will spoil but we do not know when. We can only determine the period, during which they will not spoil, or do not lose their qualities. Such food, there is for example vegetable oil, chocolate or canned products among them, are labelled with the best before date. And this is the problem. For example a can with tomatoes will probably be quite all right even several years after its best before date. In many EU countries (including Slovakia), however, a product after its best before date may not be sold – and if it remains in stock, it is disposed of. Also many consumers (especially if they confound the use-by date and best before date) waste the expired product even if it is quite safe.

Do people waste products with the best before date? Let's cancel it!

The idea of European politicians is very simple: "Let's remove the best before dates from products such as chocolate, pasta or canned products, and sellers as well as consumers will not waste them prematurely and needlessly." The idea covers a lot of good and reasonable things. On the other hand, it implies evident problems too. How can consumers say that the product's "best period" had passed? How will they choose among the same products those that they will buy / consume first? And why should not consumers be notified of when a product is best for consumption?

There is the Czech way

The experts and politician will have to solve these and other questions if they want the considered change of rules to bring benefit, not confusion. Customers could get into quite absurd situation when all allergens and nutritional values will be indicated on product packaging but not the date until when the product is best to be consumed. Theoretically our great-grandchildren will buy canned beef hundred years old in a supermarket in 2120.  We have to believe that European legislation will settle these paradoxes. Perhaps, EU could be inspired by a Czech legal standard that allows the sellers to sell product after the best before date but at their own responsibility. So let's wait!