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Food Safety

Date marking and food waste

Better understanding and use of date marking on food, i.e. "use by" and "best before" dates, by all actors concerned, can prevent and reduce food waste in the EU.

A study carried out by the European Commission (2018), estimates that up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste generated annually in the EU are linked to date marking.

Consumers and date marking

Misinterpretation by consumers of the meaning of the "use by" and "best before" dates can contribute to household food waste. As called for by the new Farm to Fork Strategy, the Commission will propose, by the end of 2022, the revision of EU rules on date marking. In doing so, the Commission aims to prevent food waste linked to misunderstanding and/or misuse of these dates, whilst ensuring that any proposed change meets consumers’ information needs and does not jeopardise food safety.

The Commission will carry out an impact assessment (with public and targeted consultations) as well as consumer research to support its proposal. The Commission has published its inception impact assessment on 23 December 2020, which considers different policy options and describes the work that will be carried out in this regard. The document is publicly available here.

Food business operators and date marking

How date marking is utilised by food business operators and regulatory authorities in managing the supply chain can also have an impact on food waste. For example, the approaches followed by food business operators in defining date marking (e.g. whether to utilise a "use by" or "best before" date), market practices (such as the amount of shelf life required by retailers on product delivery) and national rules on the further distribution and use of foods past the "best before" date, can all influence the generation of food waste in the supply chain.

In this context, the Commission requested a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in order to support food business operators in the application of relevant EU rules. Helping food business operators in their decision making on the choice between "use by" or "best before" dates and on setting the appropriate shelf-life, storage conditions and open life instructions will improve the understanding and use of date marking and contribute to the better management of foods by all actors, which will have an impact on food waste reduction.

A dedicated sub-group of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste on date marking has been established to discuss possible options and help guide work in this area involving all actors concerned: public authorities in EU Member States, food business operators, consumer - and other NGOs.