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Best before dates may be scrapped

EU plans to scrap compulsory “best before” labels on coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles

19 May 2014

BEST before dates on food add to the mountain of waste in Europe, and could be scrapped for long shelf-life products, including coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles, if EU plans get the go-ahead.

According to latest figures, the French throw out 20kg of food each every year, of which 7kg has not been opened.

Across Europe, an estimated 100 million tons of food is wasted annually.

The European Commission now plans to extend the list of foods that do not require ‘best before’ dates. It believes the measure will mean up to 15 million tons less food will be discarded.

Earlier this year, vinegar became one of the first widely used foods to be exempted from the EU’s “best before” legislation, which requires all food to carry a 'best before' date even if it has a long shelf life.

Proposed additions to the exempted list include dry pasta, coffee, rice, hard cheeses, pickles and jams.

The scheme follows a call by Sharon Dijksma, the Dutch agriculture minister, for the EU to put its "first focus" on a campaign to reduce the food waste estimated to cost families across Europe as much as €600 a year.

She said that ‘best before’ dates have, “nothing to do with health, but with the quality [of the product].”

“I think consumers are able to judge for themselves," she said.

Consumers can tell for themselves when food has gone off and minor changes such as "a bit of a change in colour" should not lead to foods being thrown away, she told a meeting of EU farm ministers and officials in Brussels.

A use-by date is applied if there is a health risk in eating food after that date, whereas a best-before date is more about the quality. When it expires it does not necessarily mean food is harmful, but it may have lost flavour and texture.

According to a European Commission study, however, 50% of consumers are confused about consumption dates on food packaging. This uncertainty accounts for 20% of perfectly good food going to waste.

European commissioner for health Tonio Borg said: “If we do nothing, food waste account for 126 million tons per year in 2020.”

The Commission will establish a working group to revise the list of products and identify other European rules which may contribute to waste. The first steps could be taken at the end of 2015.

A website on ways to avoid food waste can be found at www.gaspillagealimentaire.fr

Feng Yu - Fotolia.com

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