Sheffield-based Approved Food is campaigning to highlight the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates in a bid to prevent households throwing away tonnes of edible food every year.
Approved Food brand ambassador and anti-waste campaigner Jonathan Straight says that while use by dates were concerned with safety, best before was for guidance and that tinned, dried and frozen food that passes this date is still generally safe to eat.
Around seven million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK away every year, two million of which is discarded by private households who on average waste £70 every month by binning food, according to to the national waste prevention body Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
WRAP also estimates that discarded food creates the equivalent of 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the same as a quarter of all cars on the road.
Mr Straight said better education on food labelling terminology was vital in the fight to reduce the amount of food thrown away.
While use by dates are generally applied to fresh produce such as meat, salad and vegetables and concern food safety, best before dates – sometimes marked as BBE on packaging – are discretionary and refer to quality, not safety.
He said: “Best before dates should be used as a rough guide rather than a strict rule.
“People mistakenly think food is out of date and throw it away, yet if it has been stored properly it can last a considerable time, often several years after the date stamped on it.
“Manufacturers tend to err on the side of caution but tinned goods and foiled packed items are perfectly safe to use.”
This view is backed by Dr Aneesha Ahmad. The Huddersfield-based GP said current labelling practices were confusing and that eating food that was past its best before date was “absolutely fine and safe”.
She said: “It astounds me how much food and drink we waste every year, the majority of which could have been eaten.
“It’s simply not ethically or environmentally acceptable to throw food away so frivolously. One of the biggest misconceptions around the food industry is that you can’t eat food after the best before date has passed, but actually that’s just a recommendation and you absolutely can.
“There’s so much confusion among consumers about date marks and understanding when it’s safe – and not safe – to eat food, and it’s important to understand the difference between them.”
April 24 was Stop Food Waste Day, which aims to educate and initiate change on food waste.
Entrepreneur Jonathan Straight also sits on the WRAP Food Redistribution Working Group.
Mr Straight said: “Pickling and drying are methods of preserving that have been used for hundreds of years – they even found a fruit cake at the camp of Scott’s Antarctic expedition that had been kept in a tin for 106 years and hadn’t gone off.
“It’s utterly ridiculous that so much food is thrown away just because of a lack of understanding of what food labels actually mean.
“We need to better understand our confusing labelling system as well as using our common sense.
“Use by dates are one thing but otherwise we should be able to rely on our senses to tell us whether food is okay to eat.
“It’s not just the food itself that is wasted.
“When you think of the energy that went into its manufacture, the amount of water used and the fuel that was needed to transport it, it’s simply not acceptable to continue like this when our planet’s resources are becoming depleted.”
Expanding empire of Approved Foods helps cut down on waste
Approved Food stocks food that is nearing or past its best before date, but never past its used by date.
Since launching ten years ago with just 50 items, the company has significantly expanded the choice available and has around 6,000 products on offer online at any given time, ranging from groceries, confectionery, soft drinks, household goods, wines and spirits to beauty products and luxury gifts. The business estimates that it has prevented around four million tonnes of goods from going to waste in the past ten years.
Approved Foods has served over 250,000 customers and employs 43 people at its site in Yorkshire.
In 2018, the business processed 90,000 orders containing more than five million items, with a revenue of £4m.