A new labelling initiative by food waste app Too Good To Go aims to get us sniffing and tasting certain food products to check for freshness if the 'best before' date has passed.
Backed by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the scheme will see brands add a new 'look, smell, taste' label to food packaging to make it clear that it's safe to use your judgement on whether to eat them after their 'best before' date.
The new initiative does not apply to 'use by' dates, which should be adhered to for safety. These can be found on foods on which dangerous bacteria aren't always identifiable by smell or taste, including meat, fish, prepared salads and cooked meats, such as ham.
Consumers currently face an array of 'advisory' labels - used by retailers to indicate freshness - on food products. While 'use by' dates must be displayed for safety reasons on foods that go off quickly, such as meat and fish, other labels are simply a guide. This has long been a source of confusion for consumers.
New labels will begin to appear on branded dairy products and other groceries throughout 2021, encouraging us to 'look, smell, taste' products to judge whether they are still fresh, and helping to keep more food on the table and out of the waste bin.
The scheme is also encouraging food manufacturers to reassess 'use by' dates, and only apply them to products where there is a genuine health risk to eating them late.
Food producers and retailers use a variety of date labels to indicate how fresh their food is, but most of these are not required by law, and some food has no date labelling at all.
So far, thirty brands have joined the scheme, pledging to add the 'Look, Smell, Taste, Don't Waste' label to packaging, change 'use by' labels to 'best before' on products with flexible consumption dates, and remove best before dates on products where they are not required.
Nestle will begin adding the label to key products in early 2021, along with Danone, which will include it on yoghurt products such as Activia, Actimel, Light & Free and Oykos. Bel Group's The Laughing Cow cheese packs will contain an insert explaining best before dates and encouraging customers to look, smell and taste, while Arla plans to add the new label to all bottles of Cravendale milk.
Shefalee Loth, Which? nutritionist says: 'This is a great move to reduce unnecessary food waste. However, when a food does have a 'use by' date this must be followed - consuming it past this date could make you ill. Use by dates are found on fresh meat and fish, cooked meats such as ham and on pre-prepared and washed salads. If you aren't going to be able to use something before the use by date, freeze it and use it at a later date to avoid wasting it.'
Label confusion can lead to people throwing away perfectly good food, believing it to be 'out of date' and therefore inedible or unsafe.
Too Good To Go estimates 180,000 tonnes of food, costing half a billion pounds, is wasted in the UK each year because of misunderstandings around date labels.
For longer-lasting foods, learning to recognise when they are still edible will help everyone to minimise food waste, shop more sustainably and cut shopping bills.