Tesco case may cause confusion over date labels, warns online retailer

Posted: 23 April 2021 | | No comments yet

Approved Food argues that headlines over Tesco’s food safety breach could contribute to consumer confusion over best before and use by and result in perfectly good food going to waste.


Earlier this week Tesco made headlines following an admission that three of its stores had sold food past its use-by-date.

Asides from the food safety implications, another issue has risen to the surface. Many of these headlines referred to Tesco selling ‘out of date’ food, which online retailer, Approved Food, has warned could cause further confusion to consumers over best before vs. use by.

The problem with the term ‘out-of-date’

At a hearing at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, Tesco admitted 22 breaches of the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations between 2016-2017. The retail giant was subsequently fined £7.56 million.

Afterwards, a spokesperson said the chain was disappointed that a “small number of out-of-date products had been found on sale and that date checking procedures had since been improved”.

Approved Food managing director Andy Needham, pointed out that the term ‘out of date’ could create more confusion for consumers as it’s not a phrase which appears on any food packaging in the UK.

“It is meaningless,” he said. “Much of our work concerns educating the public about food labelling. If an item of food has past its use by date, as this food had, it is potentially dangerous and should not be eaten. If, on the other hand, it has past a best before date, then in all likelihood it will be perfectly safe to eat.”

Research shows that 10 percent of all food waste in Europe is as a result of confusion over labelling.1 Moreover, prior to launching its Look, Smell, Taste campaign, food waste app, Too Good to Go, revealed that 45 percent of all UK adults are confused by what best before dates actually mean.

“Using terms like ‘out of date’ muddies the water,” continued Needham. “People should understand that the date on a pack can mean one of two different things. Past use-by means it is dangerous to eat and it is illegal to market it for sale; past best before is just an indication of optimal quality and it could be good for months or even years. Grouping all dates together like this is not helpful.”

Approved Food brand ambassador Jonathan Straight added that the Tesco spokesperson’s use of such a phrase was unhelpful and arguably resulted in national press echoing these words.

Straight said that this could potentially lead to “perfectly edible food being needlessly discarded”.

He continued: “It also detracts from the real issue, which is that Tesco’s internal procedures, checks and staff training have failed at multiple locations and on several occasions.”



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