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The UK Can Reduce Food Waste by Knowing What the Date Labels Mean

Not all types of food that the Brits buy end up in the stomach. Some found themselves in the bin and then in the landfills or incinerators.

The food waste problem in the UK may not be as worse as it was before. According to the government, it already declined by 7 percent over the last three years. However, this still means that food waste still accounts for 4.5 million tonnes of garbage annually.

Many factors can lead to food waste, and it can begin even in agriculture. For example, farmers may throw away ugly produce, or buyers may not buy the goods. Some types of food may spoil during transit, especially if the vehicle doesn’t have enough refrigeration.

But one of the most common causes of food waste is preventable: confusion on the different dates on the product label.

What Do They Mean Anyway?

Here’s a question: how often did you throw away food from the fridge or the freezer simply because the date has already passed? While you may be heeding to the side of caution, you may also be doing something unnecessary and, worse, harmful to the environment in the long term.

Unlike in the United States, where date labeling is not mandatory except for infant formulas, the laws are stricter in the UK. However, date marks for consumers usually only have two categories: best before and use by.

Best Before

Contrary to popular belief, the best-before date doesn’t indicate safety but quality. In other words, it refers to how long the product may be able to retain its optimal condition or quality.

However, when they are stored properly, their lifespan can still extend. They might still be safe to consume until they’re showing signs of spoilage. These include changes in color, texture, and odor.

The products that usually use the best-before dates are those that do not perish quickly. They may also not require freezing or refrigeration. These include dry pasta, bread, other whole grains like uncooked rice, and tinned products, including fruits and vegetables. Bread, on average, is good for a week. When placed inside the fridge, you may still eat it within three to five days after the best-before date.

Many frozen goods, though, may also bear the best-before date. In fact, in many situations, buying frozen may be both cheaper and more ideal. The freezing process helps retain the quality and even the nutritional value of the food.

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Use By

Use by seems to be the opposite of best-before date as they refer to safety than quality. You should consume products that bear this date on or before and discard them even when they still look fine.

The products, which may range from meat to pre-packed food on counters, are prone to bacterial contamination. People who may eat them may develop food poisoning or other gastrointestinal issues.

You should also store use-by dates properly, especially since the signs of bacterial contamination can begin early. That means you may have to throw away the food even before the use-by date.

However, like food bearing the best-before date, products in frozen food stores might have longer lives. Storing them in the freezer as fast as you can after you bought them is incredibly helpful. Once defrosted, you can consume the food within 24 hours.

How about Sell-By Dates?

Adding to the confusion is another date found on products. This is likely to be the sell-by date. There’s one reason food experts don’t mention it: it’s the least of your concerns.

Sell-by dates are intended for retailers to guide them on how long they can display the products on the shelves or counters. They don’t have anything to do with either the product’s quality or safety (or both).

However, these dates can also worsen the country’s food waste if the retailers decide to throw them away. These stores are even responsible for 2 percent of the food waste generated post farm gate.

Fortunately, more shops try to be sustainable and, in turn, help other pressing woes, including food insecurity. Studies show that UK supermarkets donate nearly 8,000 tonnes each year to places like food banks. Many organizations also link consumers to food that is about to expire so that they can buy them at discounted prices.

Knowing the meanings of the dates can help decrease food waste for many reasons. First, it helps you determine the best way to store food. Second, you will know which ones to consume first. Third, you now know ways to extend their shelf life.

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