Boroume: Date marking and food waste
According to a recent survey by the European Commission (February 2018), it is estimated that up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste generated annually in the European Union is linked to the date marking on foodstuffs.
This happens, amongst other reasons, because of the lack of understanding and misinterpretation by consumers of the dates we find on food labels. The practices followed by food companies (defining date marking and shelf life by the industry, retail market practices), as well as the approach of regulatory authorities, also have an impact on food waste throughout the supply chain.
An EU-wide quantitative consumer survey took place in 2015 to assess citizens’ attitudes towards food waste, as well as the level of awareness and understanding of date marking on food products.
Research findings in Greece require our attention as Greece comes third… from the bottom of EU Member States showing good understanding (only 22%) of the “best before” indication.
“To a large extent citizen’s face “use by” and “best before” indiscriminately. Indeed, the proportion of those who would throw away a foodstuff after the date of minimum durability, irrespective of whether the food is safe, is twice the corresponding European average.
Please note that the “use by” date is found on perishable foodstuffs and relates to food safety, while the “best before” date is found in non-perishable foods and is associated with qualitative characteristics. If properly maintained, a foodstuff may be consumed for a certain period after the date indicated, but it may no longer be at its best quality (e.g. texture, aroma).In the context of the recent (2018) study of the European Commission on the approach and practices in date marking by regulatory authorities and food businesses, a market research has been carried out on food products in 8 EU Member States, including Greece.
It is noteworthy that wide divergences between countries have been recorded in food business practices for similar or even identical products. This is explained by the fact that the approach taken to determine the life cycle – in addition to assessments based on risk analysis – is determined to a certain extent by concern about consumer perception, expectations and knowledge about date labels in a particular market.
Greece is among the countries where more use is made of the “use by” labeling, while the smallest use was observed in products traded in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Moreover, in Greece, the use of the term ‘expiry date’ (which does not correspond to the wording in the legislation) is unclear.
The main food categories where food waste is observed, attributed to the date marking, are fruits and vegetables, bakery products, meat-fish-poultry, and dairy products.
The European Commission – with the assistance of stakeholders – seeks appropriate solutions to clarify and simplify date marking.
Among others, proposals such as the possible replacement of the terminology ‘best before’ with a more comprehensible term or the use of visual representation for each of the two markings, an extension of the list of foodstuffs for which it is not mandatory to mark the date of minimum durability, as defined in European legislation.
Boroume’s team will continue to contribute through the organization’s informative and educational activities to raise awareness and sensitize the general public and pupils respectively, in order to prevent the waste of food that is safe for consumption.
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