Indicative date changes welcomed but regulatory frameworks key for safety-critical goods

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This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: Indicative date changes welcomed but regulatory frameworks key for safety-critical goods.

A food safety expert is advocating the use of regulatory frameworks to enable further changes to date marking for goods considered as safety critical.

Following the Waitrose announcement on plans to remove ‘best before’ dates on fruit and vegetable products, and a similar commitment from M&S last month, it is anticipated that other supermarkets will follow suit. While these are extremely positive steps for tackling food waste according to global food safety assurance specialists, LRQA, regulatory frameworks must be clarified on goods which pose adverse safety implications.

Kimberly Coffin, Global Technical Director – Supply Chain Assurance at LRQA said, “Food waste is a global issue and reducing the amount of food consumers dispose of prematurely will play an important role as we aim to meet sustainability targets from around the world. However, it is paramount that we ensure sustainable practices do not compromise on food safety.”

“Simply put, there are some products that could lead to food safety risks if consumed after the recommended time. It would not be safe if ready-to-eat foods with microbiological risk factors, like cooked meats, pre-packed sandwiches and value-added salads, for example, were given best before dates instead of use-by guidelines. Therefore, regulatory frameworks need to provide the necessary clarity to ensure this fine balance between safe and sustainable foodstuffs.”

Currently in the UK, use-by dates relate to food safety, indicating the date at which the product is no longer safe to consume. Best before dates, however, relate to food quality, identifying the date at which the product is safe to consume but may not be at its highest quality. 

Kimberly added: “There needs to be clear guidance around when it is appropriate to apply a use-by date, versus a best before date on fresh goods. Retailers and manufacturers should play a leading role in educating consumers about the differences between the two, as they know the product risk profile.

“Those in the industry should also take this opportunity to evaluate existing use-by and best before dates and question whether they can be extended, without impacting food safety. There are a multitude of food and beverage products on our shelves which could probably have dates pushed back without leading to safety concerns for consumers. Manufacturers and retailers should work together, with the support of food safety specialists like LRQA, to identify areas in which changes to expiration dating practices can be made safely whilst delivering a reduction in food waste.”

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