More and more grocery stores are scrapping “use by” dates to reduce food waste

Food & farming

A woman picks out lettuce in the produce section of a grocery store.
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British grocery store chain Waitrose announced recently it is joining the growing list of retailers shifting away from date labeling their foods, in an effort to curb consumer food waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted each year – that amounts to a lot of wasted resources that went into producing the food, and results in significant greenhouse gas emissions if the food ends up in landfills, contributing to global warming. National food waste group ReFED found in a study that approximately 53% of all food wasted in the U.S. happens in the consumption stage – such as in restaurants, school cafeterias, hospitals and consumers’ homes. 

While consumer education will be key to reducing food waste in the home, there are opportunities to make broader change that makes it easier for consumers to not waste food. According to The Conversation, a network of non-profit media outlets, “Research has shown that consumers commonly reject edible, but date-expired food, rejecting up to 56.7% of such food on average.” That’s because manufacturers and retailers use all manner of date labels that have different meanings that are not easily understood by consumers – from “best by” and “best if used by” to “freeze by” and more (see our guide to date labels for more info). Further, the date labels often have little meaning because other factors, such as how the food is stored, play a significant role in how long the food will stay fresh and safe. 

That’s why a growing number of grocery stores are shifting away from certain date labels. By joining them in eliminating or standardizing date labels, more manufacturers and retailers could significantly reduce the amount of perfectly safe food that consumers throw away out of an abundance of caution. The planet and consumers’ wallets would thank them.


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