The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has taken to social media to tackle potential confusion caused by a food waste campaign that encourages consumers to smell, look and taste to determine whether food is spoiled.

The FSA official account on several platforms directed people to information on how to understand the difference between “use by” and “best before” dates.

Picture courtesy of FSA

“The use-by date is there for a reason. Eating food that’s past its use-by date can make you ill. You can’t trust the sniff test with food past its use-by date. Why? Because you can’t always smell (or taste) the bacteria that cause food poisoning,” added the agency.

Date label confusion
Recently, Too Good To Go launched a campaign with some food brands to tackle date label confusion and help cut down on food waste that involves smelling and tasting food.

Jamie Crummie, co-founder of Too Good To Go, said: “Date labeling has long caused confusion and unnecessary food waste in the UK. If we are to make significant strides to reducing food waste, we need to take action now.”

The “Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste” campaign has 25 brands signed up including Arla, Danone and Nestlé.

It will see brands switching products from “use by” to “best before” labels on certain occasions, as well as on package reminders to consumers to use their senses to decide whether to eat food past its best before date.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently released a tool for food company staff to help them decide whether a “use by” or “best before” date should be used.

Use by date is about safety
A “use by” date on food is about safety and can often be found on food that has a short shelf life, such as meat products or ready-to-eat salads. After this date, don’t eat it, cook or freeze it.

The “best before” date relates to quality. Food will be safe to eat after this date but flavor or texture may be affected. These dates appear on frozen, dried and canned foods. It will only be accurate if food is stored according to instructions on the packaging.

Arla said it was the first in the milk category to make the switch from “use by” to “best before.”

David Moon, head of business collaboration at WRAP, said food with a “best before” can be good to eat for days, weeks or months beyond the date on pack depending on the food type, and how it’s been stored.

“It’s important though to remember that a ‘use by’ date is the safety marker, and there to protect us. Food with a ‘use by’ date should never be eaten after that date, so we should try to use or freeze these items before they expire.”

WRAP estimated annual food waste in UK households, hospitality and food service, food manufacture, retail and wholesale sectors in 2018 at about 9.5 million tons.

Ben Elliot, the food surplus and waste champion for Defra, said: “It is important that we help people better understand whether produce is safe to eat, and that information on food is clear, helping people make these decisions.”

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