Best-before-dates are bad news, say German food companies

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Germany’s agriculture minister has declared a target to halve food waste by 2030. ©iStock
Germany’s agriculture minister has declared a target to halve food waste by 2030. ©iStock

Related tags: Food waste, European union

Product defects (73%), technical faults (54%) and expiry of the best-before-date (43%) are the major causes of food waste in the German food industry, according to a study.

Researchers at the Humboldt University in Berlin also found that 84% of the 51 companies they quizzed felt the issue was a ‘high’ or ‘fairly high’ priority. More than one in two (51%) said the topic is increasingly relevant.

Indeed, Germany’s agriculture minister has declared a target to halve food waste by 2030. A reported ​10m has also been made available for research into “smarter packaging”, but

Christian Schmidt also wants to remove best-before-dates.

In the Humboldt study, consumer education in relation to best-before-dates was seen as the best way to cut waste, alongside the optimisation of production processes (both were mentioned by 75% of companies). Technical progress (58%) and employee training (47%) are also important.

Currently, food firms in Germany are not actively communicating to consumers on the issue of food waste (unlike, for example, the UK and France). Going forward, engagement could provide companies with a competitive advantage and new marketing opportunities, the researchers suggested.

“In order to minimize food losses at all stages along the supply chain, communication and collaboration at all stages is essential, especially the communication to consumers.”

Date dilemma

sweden swedish diet national
Sweden has proposed to scrap best-before labelling on products like coffee, pasta and rice that have a long shelf-life.©iStock

Some Member States – amongst them, the Netherlands and Sweden – have proposed to scrap best-before labelling on products like coffee, pasta and rice that have a long shelf-life.

The labels are well-known to be a source of confusion amongst consumers. A Flash Eurobarometer survey​ published by the European Commission in September 2015 showed that less than half (47%) of consumers are able to correctly interpret the meaning of the best before date. In Germany, the figure was 51%.

German consumers were among the most receptive to changes in labelling – only one in four (25%) indicated that they’d like best-before-dates to remain on selected non-perishable goods. In fact, just 8% of those polled in the country said they’d throw a packet of spaghetti away if it didn’t have a best-before-date, compared to an average of 24%.

More than a third (34%) of Germans said that clearer labelling would help them cut food waste, though the availability of smaller portions (53%) was thought to be more significant.

New laws

Europe OK
Pressure is mounting on the European Commission to reinstate an EU food waste target in its circular economy package. ©iStock

In the EU, 20% of the food produced is wasted – the equivalent of 88 million tonnes every year, worth ​143bn. Food waste has become a top priority in a number of European countries, with France​ and Italy​ introducing new regulations to reduce waste.

Last year, Scotland became the first to set a food waste reduction target. Pressure is mounting on the European Commission to reinstate an EU food waste target in its circular economy package.

Source: Waste management

Published online, doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2015.11.039

"Approaches of the German food industry for addressing the issue of food losses”

Authors: Beate Richter, Wolfgang Bokelmann

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1 comment

Best before date

Posted by Giovanna Serenelli,

If German consumers are not informed, well, the Minister may think of solutions to inform them.
Which consumer knows the shelf-life of a product?
Discard the 'best before' is a very bad and harmful solution.
It 's really the fight against food waste, or is a gift to the industry.
It is not difficult to write simple and clear labels.
Just use the brain and simple language, written in legible characters. Usually to read the labels need the magnifying glass.
As physician and consumer..

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