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'Sell by' axed to cut down on food waste

The "sell-by" date on food packaging is to be removed in a bid to cut the £12 billion worth of good food which ends up in the bin, the Government has said.

Food packaging should now only carry "use by" or "best before" dates, with "sell by" and "display until" labels currently also used by supermarkets being removed to avoid confusion for shoppers.

"Use by" labels should only be used where the food could be unsafe to eat after that date, while "best before" dates should indicate the product is no longer at its best but is still safe to consume, the advice states.

Foods likely to require a "use by" date include soft cheese, smoked fish and ready meals, while biscuits, jams, pickles, crisps and tinned foods will only need a "best before" label.

The guidance issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has been produced in consultation with supermarkets, food manufacturers, consumer groups, food law enforcement bodies and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap).

According to Wrap, 5.3 million tonnes of still-edible food is thrown away each year, costing the average family £680 a year, with research showing that confusing date marks is one of the causes of the problem.

UK households could save up to £50 a month by not throwing out avoidable food waste.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "We want to end the food labelling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat. This simpler and safer date labelling guide will help households cut down on the £12 billion worth of good food that ends up in the bin."

Liz Redmond, head of hygiene and microbiology at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said: "There is a lot of confusion amongst customers about date marks. This new guidance will give greater clarity to the food industry on which date mark should be used on their products while maintaining consumer protection."

British Retail Consortium Food Director, Andrew Opie, said: "If the Government really wants to make a difference to reducing food waste it should be educating consumers about the two basic terms - use-by and best-before. This system is carefully used by retailers and it isn't complicated. 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."

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