Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Best before reaching its use-by date

NZ experts hail Europe's plan to eliminate quality control labels and cut food waste.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Selling some foods without "best before" labels could save millions of dollars and reduce the huge amount of food thrown away each year.

The idea is likely to be proposed by the European Union next month, in a bid to help reduce the millions of tonnes of food discarded each year, by people who believe it is no longer good enough to eat, the Daily Telegraph reports.

If the plan is approved, best-before labels on long-life foods such as rice, coffee, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles will be removed in Europe.

The change would not eliminate labels showing "use by" - compulsory labels giving the date by which a product must be consumed.

Best-before labels are only a guide that quality may be affected.

New Zealand food and consumer experts say the idea is a good one.

NZ Guild of Food Writers president Trudi Nelson said best-before and use-by labels were discussed at the guild's meeting in November, at which sustainability was the theme.

She said many people tended to throw food away when it passed the best-before date. But most of those products were still edible.

"Reducing food waste is all about sustainability for us. New Zealanders are a savvy bunch of food lovers. We read labels, shop at farmers' markets, buy seasonal and organic where we can.

"So let's think outside the supermarket bag - eat cheese that's a few weeks out of date, cook with a can of tomatoes that's passed its best-before date ... "

Mrs Nelson said statistics revealed at the three-day annual conference showed that $470 worth of food was being thrown away per person, each year.

A total of 15 per cent of grocery items bought by Kiwi households ended up in the bin.

"We promote ourselves as being green and clean, so let's lead the way in reducing food waste," Mrs Nelson said.

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin also welcomed the proposal to remove best-before dates - saying many people continued to confuse that with use-by labels.

"Use-by labels, you absolutely have to have.

"But the best-before date is really about the quality of the food."

Ms Chetwin said many non-perishable foods could be eaten months, even years, after the best-before date.

It was up to consumers to decide whether they felt a particular food was still good enough to eat, she said.

* See Canvas magazine in the Weekend Herald this Saturday for more on the issue

- NZ Herald

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