Tesco removes 'best before' dates on some fruit and veg

bagged potatoesImage source, Tesco

Tesco is removing "best before" labels from many of its fresh produce lines, which it says will help reduce waste.

The supermarket will remove the advice from about 70 pre-packaged produce lines to avoid "perfectly edible food" being thrown away.

The items that will lose the label include apples, potatoes, tomatoes, lemons, other citrus fruit and onions.

"Best before" labels indicate that the quality of a product may deteriorate after the date indicated.

In contrast "use by" dates indicate when it becomes less safe to consume the food.

"We know some customers may be confused by the difference between 'best before' and 'use by' dates on food and this can lead to perfectly edible items being thrown away before they need to be discarded," said Mark Little, Tesco's head of food waste.

He said fruit and vegetables were among the food most frequently thrown away by consumers, although many are ignoring "best before" dates already.

"Many customers have told us that they assess their fruit and vegetables by the look of the product rather than the 'best before' date code on the packaging," he added.

What do food advice terms mean?

  • Use By - Cannot be sold, redistributed or consumed after this date. Applied to foods which are highly perishable - such as fresh fish, meat and poultry - and therefore constitute an immediate danger to human health
  • Best Before - Can be sold, redistributed and consumed after this date. Applied to all other kinds of food
  • Some products aren't legally required to carry a date label
  • Only one date label is recommended for each food item

Source: Wrap

Tesco said removing the information on the label would encourage customers to make their own decisions about the freshness of produce.

However, all the produce affected will be items sold in bags or boxes and so are less easy to handle. Individual items, such as loose lemons or onions, already do not carry "best before" labels.

The supermarket said that although customers would no longer be able to differentiate between bags of produce to determine how fresh they were at purchase, there were "rigorous stock rotation procedures in place" to ensure older items did not remain on shelves.

Consumer confusion

Advice issued jointly last year by anti-waste campaign group Wrap, the Food Standards Agency and the Department for the Environment suggested fewer foods should be labelled with "use by" dates, including pasteurised fruit drinks and hard cheese. Greater use of "best before" dates should be encouraged, they suggested.

But a recent survey by the National Federation of Women's Institutes found that less than half of respondents understood what "best before" means.

However, more than 70% had a clear understanding of "use by" labels.

Last year, the East of England Co-op, which is separate from the national Co-operative chain, began selling dried and tinned products that were beyond their "best before" dates at knock-down prices.

Justine Roberts, founder of parenting website Mumsnet, said: "Mumsnet users are keen not to waste food or, just as importantly, money.

"When it comes to 'best before' dates, most parents on Mumsnet take very little notice. Sad-looking veg often ends up in the slow cooker, leftover portions are put in the freezer for pot-luck nights, bread gets grated for breadcrumbs."