Manufacturers should make dates on product labels less confusing

09th December 2010 - Fine Cut

The majority of people do not understand what the dates on product labels really mean, reports The Guardian.

Survey results might range from 50 per cent to 80 per cent, but they all agree that most people are confused by product labels.

It's the wording of these product labels that seems to have us confounded. Many people say they don't know what 'use by' or 'best before' really means, and they're unsure whether food can be eaten when they pass these dates. As a result, a worrying amount of food is being wasted.

'Use by', according to the Food Standards Agency, is for foods that perish quickly and are used to advise a date when food is safe to consume until. Eating it after the date, they say, "could put your health at risk". 'Best before' is reserved for food that is less perishable, such as frozen, tinned or dried food. When the date passes, it doesn't mean that food will be harmful, but it might not be as tasty.

Furthermore, there seems to be little consistency in what is considered perishable. Soft cheese, for example, is perishable because it can harvest harmful bacteria. However, hard cheeses are relatively safe, but they still have 'use by' dates on their product labels.

Another source of confusion is the EU law which states that whole, uncut fruit and veg which is loose or packaged doesn't need any kind of date stamp.

This has led to calls for food manufacturers, as well as manufacturers of industrial labels, to agree on what is or isn't perishable, and for shoppers to educate themselves better about what product labels mean, to reduce unnecessary waste.

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