The government has urged food manufacturers to get rid of sell by dates on food packaging. Ministers say that they should be removed to help save money for shoppers and cut waste.
Critics say that the confusing packaging has encouraged people in the UK to throw away £12billion of edible food each year.
Sell by and display until labels, which relate to stock control should be removed on packaging and only the use by or best before dates should be included, advises the government.
However, the British Retail Consortium said it would be better to educate people about what the dates mean.
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), five million tonnes of edible food is discarded by UK households every year, which is the same as £680 for a household with children.
Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary, said the misunderstanding over food and packaging labelling was the cause of an estimated £750milion of the £12billion edible food waste each year.
Restaurants and shops already face a £20,000 fine if they retail food past their sell by date, so figuring out the labelling will help companies reduce waste and also save money which could be used on hiring staff, buying supplies, their restaurant insurance quotes and other overheads.
Spelman said that, “We want to end the food labelling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat.”
Spelman believes that it would be best to remove stock rotation information, such as sell-by dates, altogether.
“There are products that have several dates on them; use by, best before. Sometimes it says ‘display until’, which is not relevant at all by the time it’s sitting in your fridge,” Spelman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
DEFRA says that businesses have to label food with either a use-by or best-before date by law although compliance with the new guidance is not required by law.
Foods likely to become dangerous to eat after their use by dates include ready meals, smoked fish and soft cheese. However, the guidance also say that foods that will only be likely to require a best before date include, jams, crisps, biscuits, pickles and tinned foods. They may lose quality but are still safe to eat.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is also backing the new advice.
Liz Redmond, the Head of Hygiene and Microbiology at the FSA said “We always emphasise that use-by dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety.”
On the other hand, food writer, Rose Prince said she doubted that the science hired by companies to set use by dates on food such as eggs and yoghurt could last a great deal longer.
The guidance was produced in consultation with supermarkets, trade associations, food manufacturers, consumer groups and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
However, the British Retail Consortium also argues that the government is battling the problem of food waste in the wrong way.
Andrew Opie, Food Director, said education is the best way to ensure consumers are clear between the different between use by and best before dates.
Opie said, “Helping consumers understand that food past its best-before date can still be eaten or cooked could contribute to reducing food waste and saving people money.”
“The government should be spreading that message, not focusing on retail practices.”