Clearer date label guidance could cut food waste

Simpler, clearer date labelling and storage advice for consumers, could help Scots cut the 170,000 tonnes of food thrown away from Scotland’s homes every year due to ‘not being used in time’.


Wed, 29 Nov 2017


Zero Waste Scotland

That’s the message from Zero Waste Scotland and Food Standards Scotland, who have welcomed new guidance for the food and drink industry.

Produced by UK sustainability experts WRAP, the new report sets out best practice in the choice and application of date labels and storage advice. It will be used by food manufacturers, retailers and brands as the industry standard and brings together recommendations that ensure food is safe and adheres to legal requirements, along with consumer advice to ensure it is stored properly and used within time.

The guidance reiterates that ‘use by’ is the most important date label and the only one which relates to food safety. It states that only one date label should ever be used on packaging, calling time on stock control dates like ‘display until’ and reiterating that guidance on open packages – such as ‘use by x date’ – should only feature if food safety is an issue. 

The report also calls for a further roll-out of changes to the commonly used ‘freeze on date of purchase’ label to reflect that foods can be safely frozen right up until their use by date.

A new addition is the call to use helpful logos alongside text more often, which consumers find easier to understand than text alone. Zero Waste Scotland supports WRAP’s call for the freezing Snowflake logo to be reinstated where it might have been removed, and introducing a new Little Blue Fridge icon for foods which should be kept chilled, or benefit from being kept in the fridge.

Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: “We all know how confusing it can be to keep track of how food should be stored and whether it is safe to eat, and unfortunately this confusion is leading to people throwing away food which is actually safe to eat.

“Zero Waste Scotland estimates that every household in Scotland could save around £460 a year simply by not wasting good food. We welcome this new guidance which will help standardise food labelling and make it easier for people to understand when they can freeze their food. This will help us work towards our ambitious target of reducing food waste by 33% by 2025.”

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, said: “We know current date label and storage advice is confusing and leads to thousands of tonnes of usable food being thrown away from Scotland’s homes every year – a sheer financial and environmental waste. That’s why Zero Waste Scotland, as the organisation charged with leading efforts to achieve Scotland’s ambitious food waste target, has been working with WRAP and with food partners across the UK to simplify them, making them clearer and more consistent. 

“A lot of food is wasted from our homes because people don’t understand whether it’s safe to eat or not, and confusion over date labels and what they mean plays a significant part in this. The changes to food labelling suggested in the new guidance could make a big difference to the amount of food we waste. I would urge anyone looking for further advice about safe food storage to visit the Love Food Hate Waste website.”

Dr Jacqui McElhiney, Head of Food Protection Science and Surveillance, Food Standards Scotland, said: “Food Standards Scotland supports WRAP’s new labelling guidance for the food and drink industry. It sets out best practice for date labels and storage advice, helping people to use food safely. It will also help to reduce the amount of food being wasted each year in Scotland.

“Food Standards Scotland’s research highlights that there’s some confusion about the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on food labels. Our Food in Scotland Consumer Tracking Survey showed that people who thought that ‘best before’ was the best indicator of whether food is safe to eat went up to 23% in 2016 (from 19% in 2015).  

“A ‘use by’ date is about food safety and is used on foods that go off quickly, such as dairy and meat. A ‘best before’ date is about food quality rather than food safety so after this date, while the quality of the food may not be the same, it is not harmful to eat.

“To keep yourself and your family safe, always look at food labels to make sure that everything you’re going to use has been stored as per any storage instructions and that none of the food is past its ‘use by’ date.”

Consumers are being urged to remember the difference between the key date labels:

Use by: These dates refer to safety. Food can be eaten up to the end of this date but not after even if it looks and smells fine. Always follow the storage instructions on packs.

Best before dates however refer to quality rather than food safety. Foods with a 'best before' date should be safe to eat after the 'best before' date, but they may no longer be at their best.

The new labelling guidance is available at


All form fields are required.