Co-operative first to sell food past its 'best before' date

Sell-by and best before dates – what’s the difference

A High Street chain is to be the first to sell food past its "Best Before" date in a bid to reduce waste.

East of England Co-op, which is independent of the Co-operative Group, will sell tinned goods and dried food such as pasta, crisps and rice for 10p once they reach their best before date.

The FSA estimates that the United Kingdom throws away around 7.3 million tonnes of food per year.

"I encourage all food businesses, large and small, to use this guidance to help them put the right date mark on food and help to guide people on the refrigeration and freezing of products which are crucial to reducing the amount of edible food thrown away".

Products that have passed the date printed on their packaging will be sold for a nominal 10p, in a move that the store predicts will save two tonnes of food from being wasted.

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Roger Grosvenor, joint chief executive of East of England Co-op explained that customers appreciated the opportunity to save money, with numerous 10p items flying off the shelves within an hour of them being reduced during the scheme's trial period. "This is not a money making exercise, but a sensible move to reduce food waste and keep edible food in the food chain", Grosvenor continued.

The store estimates that the initiative will prevent at least 50,000 items a year being discarded. They explain the policy on their website: "The food we will be selling is still edible and enjoyable past its Best Before date, but it needs to be eaten as soon as possible after purchase".

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises that products past their "best before" date are safe to consume but may not be at the optimum quality intended by the producer. The wording for these dates can be varied and vague-things like use by, best if used by and sell by-and even then, the implications of what happens once an item passes this date can be unclear-will it just not taste as fresh or can it be literally unsafe to consume? The co-op anticipates that its new program will save more than two tons of food waste annually.

The retailer planned to retain heavily-discounted products on sale for one month past their "Best Before" date.

The 10p discounted food is not able to be donated to charities such as food banks, as they now do not accept food after its "best before" date has passed. But according to food safety experts, most spoiled foods, though unpalatable, aren't particularly hazardous. It is estimated that every year between 30 - 50% of food produced globally for human consumption is wasted. But those dates often have the perverse effect of convincing over-cautious consumers to throw perfectly good food into the trash.

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