Marks & Spencer plans to remove “best before” labels from 300 varieties of fruit and vegetables in its stores to reduce food waste.
The change, which will roll out this week, will rely on customers using their judgment to determine whether products are still safe to eat. The measure will affect 85% of the supermarket’s fresh produce offer.
The decision, first reported by the Mail on Sunday, is the latest step in the slow death of the best before date, an innovation which was supposed to help consumers but has instead been accused of creating mountains of waste at from perfectly edible food.
“Best before” labels differ from best before dates, the former often being merely a measure of aesthetics, while the latter tends to indicate a safety risk if ignored.
Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, had already announced the end of best before dates on its branded fruit and vegetables as early as 2018, while German supermarket Lidl also says it is not including information shelf life, to reduce food waste. . In January, Morrisons dropped use-by dates, instead asking customers to roll out the “sniff test” to check if cow’s milk is still safe to drink.
Potatoes are the most wasted food in the UK, followed by bread and milk, according to food waste charity Wrap. M&S will also offer customers the option of buying three bananas at a time – rather than a bunch – to reduce waste of another popular item – although these will be supplied in packaged ’25p banana bags’.
M&S aims to halve the food waste of its products by 2030 compared to 2018, and it aims to redistribute 100% of edible food surpluses by 2025. Meeting these targets would put it in line with the commitment of the UK to meet the UN target of halving food waste by 2030 compared to 2007 – while helping consumers save hundreds of millions of pounds each year on food from the bin.
Andrew Clappen, director of food technology at M&S, said the supermarket must “do everything we can” to reduce the amount thrown away.
“To do this, we must be innovative and ambitious – removing best before dates when safe, testing new ways to sell our products and galvanizing our customers to get creative with leftovers and embrace change” , did he declare.
Reducing food waste is an essential part of addressing the carbon emissions associated with agriculture and food distribution. Wrap estimates that up to 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions can only be addressed by changing the way we make and consume products and food. He said removing dates from fresh fruits and vegetables can save the equivalent of 7 million food baskets a year.
Catherine David, Director of Wrap, said: “We are delighted to see this move by M&S, which will reduce food waste and help tackle the climate crisis.
“We urge more supermarkets to get ahead of food waste by removing date labels from fresh produce, allowing people to use their own judgement.”