Study: Extending “Best-By” Dates Could Prevent Millions Worth of Wasted Food

Changing how companies set “best-by” and “use-by” dates on food products could prevent thousands of pounds of food from going to waste every year, according to a recent study from UK charity WRAP.

The study, titled Reducing food waste by extending product life, said as much as 2.6 million tonnes of food goes to waste annually throughout the food supply chain because the product has “expired,” based on the “use-by” or related labels on food products. Yet WRAP estimates that with a one-day increase in product life, about 250,000 tonnes of food waste would be prevented. Additionally, if food retailers extended the use-by dates by just that one day, they could save about $150 million in waste prevention, WRAP found.

Food waste is a topic we have covered extensively here on Spend Matters. We have written about it in our Waste Matters! series, which discussed how much food is thrown out in the United States, reasons for that waste and how much it is costing companies, among other topics.

The WRAP study also provides a business case for companies to make efforts in cutting back on wasted food and lost revenue.

“The findings in our report are a real opportunity for industry,” said Dr. Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at WRAP. “By implementing these simple recommendations, food manufacturers and retailers can make a big difference in the battle against food waste, without even having to change products and packaging.”

Among the food products WRAP studied specifically regarding extending product life include produce like apples, salad and potatoes to sliced ham, juice and milk.

More from the study’s key findings:

"This work has demonstrated that it is feasible to challenge existing product life setting protocols and potentially add one day to a wide range of products. A small increase in product life of one day is more likely to impact behaviour for products that have a short life, for example between 3-12 days, than for products that have, say, in excess of 30 days life, simply because it gives proportionately more time for a sale or for the product to be used in the home. The evidence also suggests that products with a short life are likely to lead to more waste than those with a longer life.”

This study also brings up another topic: household food waste. While grocery stores and food companies may automatically discard food that is past its "best-by" date, do all consumers follow the same rule as well? I can say, personally, I don't mess around with certain "expired" products. It only takes one gulp of spoiled milk to never want to even sip it if its past that date on the carton. Other items, I can be more flexible with. But what about you? Are you someone who throws out a product according to its "use-by" and "best-by" dates? Are we discarding these items too early?

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