Proposals to scrap food ‘use by’ dates in the UK

A degree of confusion does exist at consumer level regarding the date marks that appear on food labels, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s Wayne Anderson.

“But the bottom line is that food must not be consumed after its ‘use by’ date,” he said.

“Shops cannot sell a product after its ‘use by’ date. However, labels such as ‘sell by’ date are used by retailers to allow the management and rotation of stocks. These have no statutory implications, whatsoever, for the retailer.

And the same principle holds for ‘best before’ dates. These indicate the time period up to which the quality of the food referenced is at its optimal value.

Anderson was responding to recent articles in the UK media, indicating that some foods can be safely consumed beyond their ‘sell by’ date, provided they are stored properly.

“Some food scientists may hold this view,” said Anderson.

“But from a consumer health point of view, the strict recommendation from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland is that all foods must be consumed before their ‘use by’ date.”

According to the UK-based charity, ‘Wrap’, consumers should use a ‘sniff test’ when it comes to determining the safety of milk they remove from their fridges.

The organisation is currently in talks with the dairy sector and the UK’s Food Standard Agency claiming that ‘best before’ dates should be used on dairy products instead of the current ‘use by’ option. Moreover, this approach would bring about significant reductions in food waste levels.

Commenting on this, the National Dairy Council’s Dr Marianne Walsh said that the Irish dairy industry’s top priority is to deliver safe, high-quality products to Irish consumers thanks to robust controls and standards.

We work closely with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in recommending date markings and storage instructions.

“Currently the Food Safety Authority recommends that a ‘use by’ date is used for all perishable dairy foods such as yogurt, milk, cream and cheese.”