Home' Asia Pacific Packaging Magazine : December 2013 Contents 25
sue to resolve
per person every year.
In the US post-consumer losses
amount to 30 per cent of all food, worth
US$48.3bn, which is thrown away by
consumers each year. Additionally the
FAO estimates that about half of the
water used to produce this food in the
US also goes to waste, agriculture being
the largest human use of water.
Up north, Canada wastes US$27bn
worth of food a year.
Research by the Australian Institute
shows that Australians throw away
about $5.2bn worth of food every year,
that’s about 4.5 million tonnes, costing
an average of A$5,000 per household
It comes as no surprise that,
according to the FAO, high-income
regions are responsible for about 67 per
cent of all global meat wastage.
FOOD can be wasted due to quality
standards, which reject food items
not perfect in shape or appearance.
At the consumer level, insuffcient
purchase planning in combination with
the careless attitude of those affuent
consumers who can afford to waste food
is a contributing factor.
But by far the largest cause of food
waste is consumer confusion about
when food is safe to eat and when it has
Consumers are bewildered by the
difference between the meaning of ‘use-
by', 'best-before' and 'sell-by' dates. This
is the major source of post consumer
food waste in the affuent world. More
than 90 per cent of Americans throw
food away because they mistakenly
interpret the date label to mean their
food is unsafe.
The problem is so acute that several
governments have published their own
guides to take the consumer by the hand
and spell out the differences. The EU
has a handy powerpoint guide – that
doesn't really clarify anything (see
According to Australia’s New South
Wales Food Authority, all food with
a shelf life of less than two years must
be date marked. After this date foods
may be unsafe to eat even if they look
fne, because the nutrients in the food
may become unstable or a build-up of
bacteria may occur.
Common ‘use-by’ foods include
milk, sliced ham and shaved meats. It is
illegal, in Australia, to sell foods after a
The 'best before' date simply
indicates that the product may lose
some of its quality after this date
passes. Foods can be legally sold after a
'best before' date as long as they are not
damaged, deteriorated or perished.
Common ‘best before’ foods include
canned foods, cereals, biscuits, sauces,
chocolate, sugar, four and frozen foods.
Consumers can expect these foods
to retain their colour, taste, texture
and favour as long as they are stored
The problem is that those dates do
not actually guarantee the safety of the
food, and despite consumer belief many
countries, such as the US and EU, have
no regulations whatsoever governing
where and when these date-stamps
are to be used, or even how they are
calculated. Manufacturers are left to
make their own decisions as to the
wording on the pack – use-by, sell-by,
best before, take your pick and magic a
date out of a hat.
Yes it is entirely up to the brand
owner which type of label and what
date to put on a pack. Reputable brand
owners may use lab tests, others might
rely on consumer taste tests, while
some may just rely on sales data to
suggest a longer product shelf life than
a competitor by sticking a 'sell-by' date
and winging it.
A simple check at the UHT shelf and
fresh milk chiller in any supermarket
will prove the point, with all three
dates being used seemingly at random
-- sometimes even within the same
According to the president of the
US Institute of Food Technologists,
“In 40 years, in eight countries, if I
think of major product recalls and food
poisoning outbreaks, I can’t think of one
that was driven by a shelf-life issue.”
THE impact of such massive post-
consumer waste is three-fold:
Not only do Western consumers
spend huge amounts of money to
purchase and then throw away perfectly
good food, but the environmental
impact is generally ignored.
According to the FAO, “the volume
of irrigation water used globally to grow
food that is ultimately wasted would be
enough for the domestic needs of nine
billion people, at 200 litres per person
While, “10 percent of rich countries’
greenhouse gas emissions come from
growing food that is never eaten.”
It is clear that government
‘consumer advisories’ and education
programmes have run their course and
been proven to be absolutely useless
in tackling the post-consumer food
So unless the food and packaging
industry wants the heavy hand of
regulation to descend on it, it is time to
cut the major cause of post-consumer
Is it not time for our industry to take
the lead and devise a single common
standard for food labeling? One that
clearly tells consumers when the
product is safe and when it must be
• Best before indicates the date until
the food retains its expected quality.
Food is still safe to consume after
the indicated best before day on the
condition that storage instructions
are respected and packaging is not
damaged, but it might begin to lose its
favour and texture.
• Best before dates appear on a wide
range of refrigerated, frozen, dried
(pasta, rice), tinned and other foods
(vegetable oil, chocolate, etc).
• Check if the packaging is intact, and if
the food looks, smells and tastes good
before throwing away food past its best
• Once a food with a best before date
on it has been opened, follow any
instructions such as ‘eat within three
days of opening’, when applicable.
On the other hand, the EU guide
• Use by indicates the date until when
the food can be eaten safely.
• Do not use any food after expiration of
the use by date.
• Use by dates appear on highly
perishable food such as fresh fsh,
fresh minced meat, etc.
• Follow the storage instructions such
as ‘keep in a refrigerator’ or ‘keep at
2-4°C’; if not the food will spoil quicker
and you may risk food poisoning.
• By freezing the food at home soon
after purchase, you can extend its life
beyond the use by date, if it is frozen
properly. But make sure you follow
any instructions on the pack, such as
‘freeze up to the use by date’, ‘cook
from frozen’ or ‘defrost thoroughly
before use and use within 24 hours’.
has been opened follow any storage
and user instructions such as ‘eat
within three days of opening’, bearing
in mind that food should be consumed
before the expiration of the use by
EU best-before/ use-by advisory:
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