M&S axes more use-by dates in fight against food waste

The supermarket’s own-brand fresh dairy milk lines, including organic lines, will have the use-by dates replaced with best-before dates in a packaging change taking place this month.

Retailers are required to have use-by and/or best-before dates on certain food and beverage products under rules set by the Food Standards Agency (FCA). While use-by dates are applied to foods as a ‘deadline’, when a food presents a high food poisoning risk after a certain amount of time, best-before dates are guidelines for when to eat foods.

M&S said in a statement that because milk quality and shelf life have improved in recent years, it is now safe to switch use-by labels with a best-before alternative.

The retailer has also tracked an increasing consumer interest in preventing food waste; 72% of its customers have stated that they are taking steps to waste less food and drink at home. As such, it believes most customers will be happy to make their own judgement on whether their milk is still fit for use.

WRAP estimates that the bulk of the UK’s food waste occurs in the home. Regarding milk specifically, more than 490 million pints a year are wasted in British homes. This makes it one of the three most wasted food items in the home, along with potatoes and bread.

The NGO’s director of collaboration and change, Catherine David, said M&S’s label changes will be “fundamental” in reducing food waste.

“WRAP’s joint Best Practice with the Food Standards Agency, Defra and Dairy UK states to only apply a Use-By date when required for food safety reasons, and it’s fantastic to see M&S – a Courtauld 2030 signatory – making this switch,” David said.

M&S’s changes to milk packaging follow similar changes made for fruit and vegetables last year. In July 2022, the retailer began removing best-before dates from more than 300 fresh produce lines.

In this instance, to ensure that store staff are still able to check the lifetime of the products and discount and remove products from shelves accordingly, a new code was be added to packaging, which can be scanned by M&S employees but not by customers. Trials of this approach were first implemented by M&S in 2019.

Most major British supermarkets have changed date labelling on fruit and vegetables over the past two years, including Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie