Beyond the Label: The Link Between Expiry Dates and Food Waste
Imagine a fruit store overflowing with juicy strawberries, plump grapes, and vibrant greens, only to witness a large chunk of it waltz straight into the compost bin, because of its "best before" dates. This absurd scenario isn't far from reality. Every year, millions of tons of food are tossed in landfills, not because they're rotten or inedible, but simply because they've crossed an arbitrary line on a label: the expiry date.
The story of expiry dates and food waste is far more complex than simply tossing out spoiled food. It's a mix of misinformation, consumer confusion, and a delicate dance between safety and sustainability. Let's peel back the label and delve into the lesser-known facts about expiry dates and their surprising contribution to global food waste.
Not all dates Are Created Equal
First, let's clear the air: not all expiry dates are equal. The two most common types are "use-by" and "best-before."
"Use-by" dates are about safety, indicating when a food could potentially become harmful due to microbial growth. Think raw meat, dairy products, and ready-to-eat meals. These dates are holy, and exceeding them is a definite no-no.
"Best-before" dates, on the other hand, are more about quality. They tell you when the food will be at its peak flavour and texture. A yogurt past its "best-before" might be slightly tart, but it's likely still perfectly safe to eat. In fact, studies suggest that a whopping 20-40% of food waste in developed countries stems from misinterpreting "best-before" dates as "throw-away-by" dates!
The Hidden Cost of Expiry Dates
But here's the twist: the environmental impact of expiry dates goes beyond just wasted food. The resources used to grow, transport, and process that food are also squandered. Imagine the water wasted on irrigation, the fuel burned in transportation, and the greenhouse gases emitted – all for food that never reaches our plates. No, thank you!
Who is responsible for this? Manufacturers might err on the side of caution with overly conservative dates to avoid liability concerns. Consumers, on the other hand, lack clear education of expiry dates, leading to unnecessary discards. And let's not forget the role of marketing, which often promotes the idea of "freshness" as synonymous with "new," further fuelling the throw-away culture.
A Glimmer of Hope: Rethinking Expiry Dates
Here comes our good news.... Witnessing Australia's soaring food waste, the Australian Institute has proposed to revise expiry dates. Yes please! Removing unnecessary "best-before" labels from fresh produce will empower consumers and reduce waste. See, smell, feel—that apple or carrot might still be a winner. That slightly crinkled cucumber? Still a contender! Of course, dates would only be scrapped where there are no food issues.
Supermarkets, reaping billions from unsold food, seem open to reform, with both Woolworths and Coles acknowledging the potential benefits when combined with customer education on how to best store food.
By embracing labelling reform, we can rewrite the food waste story, and let our food find its way to our plates, not a landfill.
What Can We Do?
The fight against food waste is a collective effort. We, as consumers, can play a crucial role by:
Understanding expiry dates: Learn the difference between "use-by" and "best-before" dates, and don't automatically toss food past the latter.
Use your senses: seeing, smelling, and feeling are great for assessing fruit & veggies. That slightly wrinkled cucumber might not win a beauty contest, but it's still good to eat!
Planning our meals: Make shopping lists and plan meals to avoid impulse purchases and food spoilage.
Getting creative with leftovers: Leftovers don't have to be boring! Get creative and repurpose them into new dishes.
Learn how to store your food: follow us on social media (instagram or Facebook) for tips and tricks, and have a look at our award-winning and bestselling Veggie saver. This research based produce storing back makes your veggies last up to 2 weeks longer. See the reviews here