East of England Co-op has announced that it will sell dried foods and tinned products that are beyond their best before dates for just 10p in a bid to reduce food waste. Wrap, the waste and recycling advisory body, estimates that £13bn worth of food is needlessly thrown away every year and says that Co-op’s move complies with food safety standards.
Mike Williams, Director of leading UK food safety consultancy STS, says: “The fact that Co-op have taken this step of selling food after the best before date is a brilliant move by a major retailer. Retailers have run down the line of selling high quality, uniform food for quite some time and, whilst consumers are largely happy with this approach, it has increased food wastage significantly.
“As most people are aware there are two types of dates on food products. Firstly, use by dates which are the dates after which food may be unsafe to eat and, secondly, best before dates which mean that food will be safe to eat after these dates but may not be of the highest quality. To be clear, Co-op is not suggesting that they will sell food which is past its use by date – not only is this unsafe, it is illegal too.
“Selling food beyond a best before date is not illegal, these are just recommended dates after which food may not look, taste, smell or feel as good as they did when they were initially packaged. Co-op is therefore doing nothing wrong, so long as they advise their customers that the product is beyond its best before date and make sure that the food is still of a reasonable standard or quality. They are not presenting any food safety risk to their customers and, in many ways, are taking a significant moral stand which should be completely applauded.
“Food is wasted for a variety of reasons in the UK. The Food Standards Agency states that 7 million tonnes of food and drink is thrown away from our homes every year at a cost of £470 per average household (total £13bn). The most commonly discarded foods are bread, fruit and vegetables. Apart from being the wrong shape, colour or size, perfectly good food is discarded purely because it is perhaps not at its highest quality after a few days on display.
“Co-op is only the first retailer to take this step and more will likely follow, however, food manufacturers can also assist in reducing food waste in conjunction with retailers. One simple step would be to consider the removal of best before dates from a variety of foods e.g. bread and unprepared vegetables. This is an area which is, in many ways, a moving feast but can only be improved upon by good and strong collaboration between manufacturers, the FSA, retailers and consumer groups.”