Why are supermarkets scrapping best before dates?

Waitrose is the latest supermarket to scrap best before dates on products, following Tesco, Morrisons, and M&S, but why are supermarkets removing best before dates?

Woman shopping for fresh produce with no best before dates
Waitrose is set to remove best before dates on 500 products including fruit and veg...
(Image credit: Alamy)

From September, Waitrose is set to join leading retailers Tesco, Morrison, and M&S to remove best before dates on 500 products including fruit and veg.

In the bid to reduce food waste (opens in new tab) and help shoppers save money on food (opens in new tab), major retailers have agreed to ban best before labels on a variety of products to encourage shoppers to use their own judgment when it comes to deciding when food has gone off. 

Why are supermarkets scrapping best before dates?

The label ban movement started back in 2018 when Tesco ditched dates on more than 100 fresh products. Last month M&S decided to do the same on 300 of their products in order to help eliminate millions of baskets worth of food waste.

Marija Rompani (opens in new tab), director of sustainability and ethics at John Lewis Partnership, which owns Waitrose, told Sky News; "UK households throw away 4.5 million tonnes of edible food every year, meaning that all the energy and resources used in food production are wasted.

"By removing best before dates from our products, we want our customers to use their own judgment to decide whether a product is good to eat or not, which in turn will increase its chances of being eaten and not becoming waste."

Waitrose supermarket shelves apples pears and other fruit

Scrapping best before dates will help to reduce food waste

(Image credit: Alamy)

Best before and use by dates - what's the difference?

The best before date indicates when food should be eaten before the quality starts to diminish, while the use by date outlines when it’s no longer safe to consume.

The label 'best before' is often used on food with longer shelf life, where bacteria is less likely to grow or cause concern. Examples include cereal, pasta, and tinned foods. 'Best before' refers to the quality of the product meaning food is safe to eat after the best before date but the taste, texture, or smell may be compromised. Therefore leaving judgment entirely up to the consumer.

The 'use by' date however is there for safety reasons. 'Use by' dates are scientifically tested and labeled often found on perishable foods such as dairy, salads, or meat for example. To avoid serious illness, the use by date must be followed as food past the use by date could contain the food poisoning bacteria Listeria.

According to food safety site safefood (opens in new tab); "the use by date is a DEADLINE but best before is a GUIDELINE, for when to eat your food."

Food safety expert Jenna Brown (opens in new tab) adds; "Put simply, use-by dates are there for your safety and mustn’t be ignored whereas best before dates are just for quality – so best before dates CAN be ignored if it looks and smells fine and there is no mould present."

Display dates are for the supermarket staff as a guide for when products should be removed from the supermarket shelves and not sold as well as stock control. 

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Waitrose's decision to scrap best before dates has left shoppers divided. Some customers raised concern about the quality of the product and how the price should reflect this; "That's absolutely appalling and I won't be buying any fresh produce this is totally for you benefit no one else's!! absolutely disgusting were supposed to strive for better quality as you charge that price for it," customer @andrelondonuk commented.

Whereas others agreed on the decision was the right one; "Good, it's about time folk used their common sense. If it looks good and smells good it is good. Eat it," said shopper @darimi1.

Related features:

- How to keep fruit and veg fresher for longer (opens in new tab)

- Food hacks (opens in new tab) to save you money

- Freezer meals (opens in new tab): How to make the most of your freezer

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Jessica Dady
Jessica Dady

Jessica Dady is Senior Content Editor at Goodto.com and has over 10 years of experience as a digital journalist, specialising in all things food, recipes, and SEO. From the best food hampers to cookbooks, from the best cake stands to baking sets, Jessica has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to must-have food products. A passionate baker, she spends much of her time creating celebration cakes for friends and family - particularly for her two lucky children.