The supermarket chain Tesco has recently taken a huge step towards improving one of the U.K’s biggest environmental problems: food waste. Tesco has removed ‘best before’ dates on many of their fresh produce items, including their own brand of fruits and vegetables.
Best before dates are meant to advise the consumer when the quality of their produce begins to decline. However, these dates are confusing, as many treat them the same as the hard rule of use by dates, which indicate when food becomes unsafe to consume. These use by dates are important for certain items like meat and dairy products, which can host harmful bacteria if consumed after a certain point. Fruits and vegetables however can be safely eaten even after their best before dates. Therefore, Tesco argues it should be up to the consumer to decide if their product is still safe to eat.
Tesco has taken many steps in order to reduce food waste before this change to their dating system. They were the first UK retailer to publish their food waste data, they regularly donate large quantities of surplus products (over 5,700 tonnes in 2016/17), and they sell produce that may otherwise be wasted through their Perfectly Imperfect line. These are steps that all supermarkets should be taking in order to help reduce unnecessary waste.
The particular problem with best before dates is that when people treat them as use by dates and throw food away, they contribute heavily to food waste. The House of Commons 2017 report for food waste in England outlines how serious our food waste issue is. 10 million tonnes of produce is wasted each year, and 60% of this could have been avoided. In houses with children it’s estimated that families lose out on £700 a year due to household food waste. The report also suggests that two thirds of food waste reduction needs to come from a household level. This means it is up to us to reduce food waste, and at the same time help those who are not able to provide food for their own tables. An initiative that you can get involved with is the community fridge network. This involves people donating surplus food that would otherwise be wasted to a community fridge. Anyone can take the food they need, reducing food waste in the UK while helping those who need a little support. Visit https://www.hubbub.org.uk/Event/community-fridge-network in order to find out where your nearest community fridge is located.
Figures from End Hunger UK show that one in six adults skip meals when they cannot afford it and one in twelve adults have gone hungry for the whole day. With this many people going hungry, why are we wasting so much food?
Tesco is taking steps in the right direction, and it’s about time all of us take a leaf out of their book. By removing best before dates Tesco is ensuring that we don’t throw out produce that is still safe to consume, and making a significant impact on a serious problem in our country.