New campaign urges consumers to check the dates and cut food waste

Date released: Nov 19 2012

New research¹ by safefood for their “Cut Food Waste” campaign has revealed that 33% of consumers believe ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates on food labels means the same thing. The research also revealed that 45% of consumers know there’s a difference between the two but are unsure what that is.

To help cut food waste, safefood and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Stop Food Waste programme have joined together as part of European Week for Waste Reduction ( 17th-25th November), to encourage consumers to check the dates on food labels and treat Best Before Dates as a guideline and Use By Dates as a deadline.

Dr. Gary Kearney, Director, Food Science, safefood said “We know that 30% of the food we buy is thrown away and the aim of this campaign is to help consumers become more aware of ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates on foods and the difference between them. And with over 60% of the population underestimating just how much of their weekly grocery bill is wasted on food that is in the end, thrown out, being more label aware can help save consumers money. Our advice is to treat Best Before Dates as a guideline and Use By Dates as a deadline."

Odile Le Bolloch, spokesperson for Stop Food Waste at the EPA, welcomed the week commenting: “Understanding the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates will empower consumers to stop wasting food and save them money. European Week for Waste Reduction gives us a chance to highlight to everyone that the way we consume and waste food has a key role in building a sustainable society that is resource efficient.  .”

Top Tips to reduce food waste:

  1. Don’t go shopping when you are hungry, you’ll buy more than you need.
  2. If you are shopping for the week, try to plan your meals ahead.
  3. Check your fridge, freezer and cupboards before you go shopping, and plan meals around what you find.
  4. Then make a shopping list… and try to stick to it.
  5. Understand your dates; treat Best Before Dates as a guideline and Use By Dates as a deadline.
  6. Beware of special deals – these are great for toilet rolls and shampoo but bad for fruit, veg and salads (anything that can go off quickly). These are the things we buy because of a “good deal”, but often they do not get eaten.
  7. Try to buy loose fruit and veg – you get what you need and can cut down on packaging waste in your bin as well. 
  8. Check use-by-dates to avoid buying food that might be thrown out if not eaten immediately.
  9. Poke around at the back of shelves – you’ll often find use-by-dates that are further away.
  10. Shop for what you actually eat, not for what you want/wish you would eat (e.g “I am going to be really healthy this week and eat lots of yogurts”) and then not eat them!
  11. If it’s an option for you, try shopping online for the basics - you get only what you want because you are not distracted by all the other goods on shelves AND you save money – it’s like magic!

Research for the campaign also found that consumers said bread was the food they wasted most (37%), followed by fruit (15%), dairy products (11%), Vegetables (10%) and cooked packaged meat (7%).

The following organisations have been involved in developing the events: An Taisce Green Home/Schools, local authorities in Kilkenny, Carlow, Cavan, Monaghan, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Clare and Kerry , Repak/EPA Packaging Prevention Programme, the Clean Technology Centre, Cork and  the Green Hospitality and Green business Programmes.  For more information on how to reduce waste people can visit the EPA’s BeGreen website (www.begreen.ie) for a one-stop-shop for individuals and businesses to access a range of programmes, guides and case studies that can assist them in becoming resource efficient and includes ideas on what can be done to reduce waste, save money & benefit the environment. For more information about safefood’s ‘Cut Food Waste’ campaign, visit www.safefood.eu

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Millward Brown Lansdowne; safefood November 2011. Omnibus survey of 2,000 adults on the island of Ireland.

In Ireland, the European Week for Waste Reduction is co-ordinated by the EPA-led National Waste Prevention Programme. The European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR) is part of a project supported by the Life+ Programme of the European Commission.

The EPA is leading the National Waste Prevention Programme and more information is available on our website. Major prevention projects include:

Local Authority Prevention Network (www.localprevention.ie)

Green Hospitality Awards for hotels and catering organisations

Green Business programme (www.greenbusiness.ie)

Green Home with An Taisce (www.greenhome.ie)

Stop Food Waste

Best Before Dates

A ‘best-before-date’ is more about food quality than safety, so when the date runs out it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture. Remember, the ‘best-before-date’ will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label, such as ‘store in a cool dry place’ or keep in the fridge once opened.

Use By Dates

A 'use-by-date' indicates the length of time that a food will remain safe to eat if properly stored and means that the food should be eaten by this date at the latest when correctly stored (for example, in a fridge at 5 degree Celsius or less). 

Perishable foods such as cooked meat products, prepared foods and salads will display a 'use-by-date' on the label and should not be eaten after this date has expired as this could present a health risk. Remember that the when pre-packaged foods, such as cooked meats and prepared salads, are opened, the use-by date no longer applies and the food label will advise that the product should be consumed within a specified number of days – normally 2 or 3 days and by the original use-by date.