A newly published scientific review article makes a number of recommendations to help end the confusion surrounding current date labelling practices for food, which can lead to significant food waste and misunderstanding of how dates relate to food safety.
The review, lead by the Institute of Food Technologists and supported by retailer Walmart, was compiled by food industry professionals from the USA and the UK. It highlights the confusion caused by variations in date labelling terms and applications around the world and potential misunderstanding of date label use by industry and consumers.
The authors suggest that current date labelling practices are a significant contributor to the huge amount of food that is wasted unnecessarily each year. The USDA Economic Research Service estimated that in 2010, around a third of all the 430 billion pounds of edible food available to US consumers went to waste. They also identify possible food safety risks caused by unclear labelling of perishable foods.
The review calls for industry to develop more consistent date marking conventions with clear direction on food quality and safety and for regulators to focus more on food safety risks rather than on labelling that is concerned only with food quality. It also questions the value of the terms “use by” and “best before” on date labels, quoting data that indicates that many consumers do not understand the difference and pointing out that a simple date cannot indicate that food is safe if it has not been stored and handled correctly. The authors also advocate more research to develop indicator technology that can provide clear information about the safety and quality of perishable food products.
The article is published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety and can be found in full here.