Debate on best-before date produces new business ideas - Expired, but still fine
Best before... While one person throws it in the bin, another person is still happy to eat it. And in fact we are not talking about food in the Third World, but food in our industrial nations – food which is thrown away simply because the label says so, even though the content of the package is still edible. It’s a well-known fact that a product may have exceeded its best-before date some time ago, yet it is still perfectly harmless. Courageous consumers often try a bit of yoghurt to see if it’s still OK, even though the label indicates otherwise. And industry, retailers and governments are equally aware of the issue.
Unpopular products are increasing in popularity
Two Sheffield-based business partners, Dan Cluderay and Andy Needham, have decided to turn out-of-date food into a successful business idea. Their company, Approved Food, buys large quantities of residual food stocks from wholesalers and supermarkets – food that is either short-dated or past its best-before date – and then sells it to their customers.
Their stocks include above all tinned food, household goods and dry products, though also carrots, apples and lemons – in other words, anything that keeps for quite a while and doesn’t go off quickly. However, Approved Food also sells seasonal items, packaged specially for occasions such as Christmas and Easter. Not only does this help avoid food losses and waste, but it also benefits the consumer. Approved Food apparently charges no more than around 70 per cent of the normal retail price. “None of our products,” says Dan Cluderay, “ ever pose any health hazards.”
Asda (UK) is currently trialling wonky vegetables, e.g. the carrots shown here. These are available at a range of supermarkets, along with food that is past its best-before date Photo: Asda Stores Limited. http://your.asda.com/news-and-blogs/we-re-extending-our-range-of-wonky-fruit-and-veg
No best-before date for pasta, flour or rice
In the UK there has long been a distinction between the best-before date and the use-by date. The best-before date means that the food is not necessarily inedible after this date has passed, while the use-by date is reserved for perishable foods, such as dairy and meat products. Germany’s equivalent concept of a "Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum" (minimum shelf life date) is now due for review. This, at any rate, was suggested in a German newspaper headline recently, when an interview was published with Christian Schmidt, the country’s Minister of Food. In the long term, the ministry is planning to abolish the minimum shelf life date for non-perishable items such as pasta, rice and flour. Instead, it will be replaced by the date of manufacture. Also, the existing expiry date for sensitive foods such as minced meat, smoked salmon and poultry will be extended. According to the food minister, we can expect to see an amendment to the relevant EU directive on food labelling and packaging.
Beautiful on the Inside – vital information on the packaging
Trade and industry are making specific efforts to prevent food from being lost or wasted. The two UK supermarket chains Asda and Sainsbury’s offer expired and slightly damaged goods at selected outlets – very much in line with Asda’s slogan “Beautiful on the Inside”, which describes fruit and veg with minor cosmetic flaws.
Bump Mark – a layer of gelatin embedded in the packaging – is a freshness label that provides tactile information whether food is still edible or whether it has gone off. Photo: www.design-by-sol.com
Industry – and ahead of the pack: the packaging industry – offers a range of innovative solutions to prevent food from being thrown away unnecessarily. Whether or not a product is still perfectly edible is indicated by smart, active packaging that carries electronic chips or sensors. This may take the form of a colour scale, ranging from green to red or it may be indicated by specific temperature details. Also, the shelf life of a food item can be extended through the use of a special oxygen-absorbing film, and harmful microorganisms can be destroyed by pulsed light.
Photo: Approved Food
A few interesting facts:
What’s the difference between the best-before and the use-by dates?
The best-before date (or minimum shelf life date) is the date until when, at the latest, an unopened and correctly stored food item must retain its specific properties, such as taste, smell, colour, consistency and nutritional value. This means that it is not an expiry date, but merely a manufacturer’s warranty for specific quality characteristics.
The use-by or expiry date applies to perishable foods which may become an immediate health hazard after a short period of time. This date is the last day by which a food item should be eaten. The words “Use by” must be followed directly by the relevant day, month and (where appropriate) year or by some specification where the date can be found on the package.
Huge demand for information Whereas in Germany only nine per cent believe that food becomes inedible after the best-before date, this view is held by as many as 54 per cent in Greece. But there’s no need for complacency. 42 per cent of Germans expressed the view that products are still OK to eat after the user-by date.
The German Federal Minister of Food, Christian Schmidt (of the conservative party CSU) wants to halve food waste by 2030. Photo: BMEL/photothek/Michael Gottschalk
Strong together: the SAVE FOOD Initiative is a coalition of the FAO, the UNEP, Messe Düsseldorf and numerous representatives from the global business world and influential organisations.
Packaging has sustainable solutions in store which – beyond protecting the packaged merchandise – also prevents food loss and waste. The “SAVE FOOD” Initiative has already been committed to this end since 2011 and is now to receive its own category in the renowned WorldStar Award for the first time.