Food waste | Are the expiry dates passed?

UK supermarket chain drops ‘Best Before’ claim to fight food waste

Posted August 2

Alice Girard-Bosse

Alice Girard-Bosse
The Press

A UK supermarket will remove the best before date from hundreds of products to tackle food waste. A measure applauded by organizations and experts in Quebec, who believe that the rules surrounding expiry dates should be reviewed.

From September, UK supermarkets Waitrose will remove ‘Best Before’ labels on nearly 500 fresh produce, including packaged fruit and vegetables.

This measure “aims to reduce the volume of food waste in UK households by asking customers to use their judgment” when deciding whether a product is still edible.

This high-end supermarket chain estimates that it will be able to save the equivalent of 7 million baskets of food from the trash.

The Waitrose company is not the first to opt for such a measure. In 2018, international retail group Tesco removed best before dates from around 100 products. The British supermarket chain Morrisons in January removed the expiry date on 90% of the products of its house brand of milk, encouraging its customers to smell the contents of the bottle to know if it is still good.

Edit Rules

A survey conducted in Quebec by the firm Léger last May revealed that the expiry date was the second most important reason that leads consumers to waste.

For Recyc-Québec, the rules surrounding expiry dates should therefore be reviewed “to maximize efforts to reduce food waste”. However, the Crown corporation specifies that food labeling is a federal responsibility.

The Quebec Food Processing Council (CTAQ) agrees.

We have repeatedly asked Health Canada to opt for better wording than ”Best before”, because we are well aware that this creates waste.

Annick Van Campenhout, vice-president, progress in food and sustainable development, at the CTAQ

Without completely removing expiry dates, the Council proposes to clearly indicate on the label that the product is still good, for a certain period, beyond the date.

Influencing consumers

In Canada, the “best before” date provides information on the freshness and potential shelf life of unopened products, but does not guarantee the safety of the product.

“It is well known and documented that ‘Best before’ dates influence consumer behavior and will discourage them from consuming certain products,” says Louise Hénault-Ethier, director of the Eau Terre Environnement Center at the National Research Institute. scientist (INRS).


Louise Hénault-Ethier, director of the INRS Water and Earth Environment Center

“Sometimes it’s a total aberration. When there’s a date on the table salt, it doesn’t have to be,” she explains.

When we talk about ”best before”, it does not mean ”best after” and this is often misunderstood by consumers.

Louise Hénault-Ethier, director of the INRS Water and Earth Environment Center

On the other hand, certain foods, such as infant formula and nutritional supplements, must have an expiry date. Beyond the date, the food may no longer meet Canadian standards and its nutrient content declared on the label may change. These foods are not affected by the measure of British supermarkets Waitrose.

Consumers ready for change

Mme Hénault-Ethier believes that Quebecers would be ready to adapt to a withdrawal of the mention “Best before”. The consumers met by The Press at the exit of a Montreal supermarket on Monday, are of the same opinion.

“I totally agree with the principle. There is a lot of waste in North America and Canada. I never took 100% of those dates into account,” says Alain Boivin, grocery bags in hand.


Alain Boivin

A few meters further, Diane Audy would also agree with this measure. “When you buy a product, you see if it is good. There are some who are a little too sensitive to the date and there is a lot of waste that is done, ”she says.

For his part, Philippe Lafrenière considers that he is able to estimate the lifespan of his food. “Dates often encourage people to throw away foods that are still of good quality,” he says.

“I think we’re smart enough to know when it doesn’t look good anymore,” adds Isabelle Carrier, who says she appreciates having access to expiry dates. “Earlier, I bought bagels. The first thing I did was look at the date and take the most recent,” she says.

With Agence France-Presse

Learn more

  • 2.2 million
    Number of tonnes of food wasted in Canada each year

    SOURCE: National Zero Waste Council

  • $17 billion
    Value of loss caused by food waste

    SOURCE: National Zero Waste Council

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