Date marking and food waste

Date marking and food waste

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

It is estimated that a considerable share of household food waste (15-33%, depending on the studies) could be linked to date marking due, amongst others, to consumer misunderstanding of the meaning of these dates.

The approaches and practices adopted by the food business operators and regulatory authorities in the supply chain can also have impact on food waste, for example:

  • use in addition of "sell by" dates in-store;

  • shelf life requirements requested by retailers on delivery;

  • different national rules and practices regarding marketing and redistribution of foods past the "best before" date, etc.

The Commission is considering possible options to simplify date marking on foodstuffs:

  • Extending the list of foods which are exempt from the obligation to include a "best before" date in food labelling (as specified in Annex X of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011). Today these include foods such as vinegar, sugar or salt. In the future, other non-perishable foods for which removal of date marking would not pose a safety concern could be also included in the list.

  • Modification of the terminology used for "best before" labelling, especially if there is evidence that alternate wording is better understood and more useful to consumers.

The Commission is currently exploring these options with both public authorities in EU Member States and actors in the food supply chain and consumers. If any changes are proposed in the future, it is critical that these:

  • meet consumer information needs,

  • can contribute to food waste reduction,

  • do not put consumer safety at risk.

In order to help inform its work on date marking, the Commission has launched a new study to map how date marking is used in the market by food business operators and control authorities. Findings from this research, expected by end 2017, will support future policy making in relation to date marking and food waste prevention.

  • Terms of Reference: Market study on date marking and other information provided on food labels and food waste prevention (SANTE/2016/E1/024)

Flash Eurobarometer 425 on food waste and date marking

The Commission has carried out pan-European quantitative consumer research in order to assess citizens' attitudes to food waste prevention as well as their awareness, understanding and use of date marking on food products.

Behavioural study on consumer choices linked to date marking

During EXPO 2015 a behavioural study on consumers' food choices and eating habits was conducted to explore how consumers respond to the absence of "best before" dates on shelf-stable, non-perishable foods such as: pasta, coffee, UHT orange juice and canned tomato sauce. The study highlights the importance of the "best before" date in reassuring consumers about product quality and safety throughout their shelf-life, reducing the likelihood of their throwing away foods before the end of the "best before" date indicated on food labels.

Information materials - infographic and leaflet

The Commission also contributes to information on the meaning of date marking to help promote better understanding and use of "use by" and "best before" dates by consumers, actors in the food chain and regulatory authorities. See the information materials below: