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‘Best before’ food labels are changing in France to reduce waste

We look at the different labels used and storage recommendations in France

The government’s plan to adapt the labels aims to improve efficiency in waste management Pic: Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

France is set to revise the way in which food expiry dates work in order to take action on waste. 

From DLC to DDM, different labels exist in France to indicate the date by which a product should be consumed. 

However, it can sometimes be unclear for consumers which should be taken as guidance and which as an instruction. 

The government’s plan to adapt the labels aims to improve efficiency in waste management by making it easier for consumers to know when they must throw a product away and when they can still eat it. 

What are the existing expiry date labels in France?

Finance ministry website economie.gouv.fr states that there are currently two main labels in France: the DLC and the DDM.

Prepackaged food products must indicate either the DLC or the DDM to show the time limit for consumption.

Date Limite de Consommation

This label – often referred to as DLC – is indicated by ‘à consommer jusqu’au…’ (use by) followed by the day, the month and possibly the year.

It mainly concerns products to be kept in a cool place and which are microbiologically perishable, such as meat, fish and some dairy products.

Is it dangerous to consume a product beyond the DLC?

It can be, because the food concerned is then unfit for consumption.

You may be able to eat the food for a couple of days after the use-by date, but you should take particular note of the product’s appearance and smell to guide you.

It is forbidden to market or sell a product which has gone past its DLC.

Date de durabilité minimale

This label, also called the DDM, is indicated ‘à consommer de préférence avant…’ (best before…).

It mainly concerns non-perishable foods, including dry, sterilised, freeze-dried and dehydrated products (dry cakes, tins, etc.) and non-dry products that can be kept for a long time before opening, such as purees, fruit juices and sauces.

Is it dangerous to consume a product beyond its DDM ?

No. Going beyond the DDM does not make the food dangerous, but it can alter its nutritional and taste qualities (aromas, consistency etc.).

Therefore, foods whose DDM is exceeded can be marketed and consumed.

Two other indications are also worth knowing if you shop in France: storage and freezing recommendations.

Storage recommendations

As its name might suggest it, this indication points out the best way to store and conserve a product. 

For items concerned by a DLC, it essentially involves refrigeration. 

It can complete a DDM label by indicating the storage conditions which will help to extend the product’s life.

Freezing date

A freezing date is mandatory for some products such as frozen meats and unprocessed frozen fish products.

This indication refers to the date on which the product was frozen. It says ‘product frozen on’ followed by either the date or a reference to where the date is indicated on the packaging.

What is about to change for French expiry labels?

To make it easier for consumers to read expiry dates and avoid waste, two indications will be added to the current DDM in France: ‘pour une dégustation minimale’ (for minimum standard taste) and ‘ce produit peut être consommé après cette date’ (this product can be consumed after this date).

Olivia Grégoire, the minister in charge of small and medium-sized businesses, has said that “food waste is an environmental and economic scandal. Each year, a person in France wastes 30kg of food, or €480 per year out of the window.” 

Estimations suggest that 20% of food waste which is thrown away could still be consumed, and is only disposed of because the consumer has misinterpreted the label.

Related articles 

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French town collects stale bread to make energy and fertiliser

Ideas to avoid wasting fruit – and pick some for free – in France

Organise your fridge, know labels: French experts’ food-saving tips

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