Marks & Spencer is planning to remove “best before” labels from 300 varieties of fruit and vegetables in its stores to cut food waste.
The change, to be rolled out this week, will rely on customers using their judgment to determine whether goods are still fine to eat. The measure will affect 85% of the supermarket’s fresh produce offering.
The decision, first reported by the Mail on Sunday, is the latest step in the slow death of the best before date, an innovation that was meant to help consumers, but which has instead been blamed for creating mountains of waste from perfectly edible food. “Best before” labels differ from “use by” dates, with the former often 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 own-brand fruit and vegetables as far back as 2018, while German supermarket Lidl also says it does not include best before information, to reduce food waste. Morrisons in January ditched use by dates, instead asking customers to deploy the time-honoured “sniff test” to check whether cow’s milk is still drinkable.
Potatoes are the most wasted food in the UK, followed by bread and milk, according to Wrap, a food waste charity. M&S will also offer customers the option to buy three bananas at a time – rather than a bunch – to cut waste of another popular item – although these will be provided in packaged “25p banana bags”.
M&S is aiming to halve food waste from its products by 2030 compared with 2018, and it wants to redistribute 100% of edible surplus food by 2025. Achieving those targets would put it in line with the UK’s commitment to meet the United Nations goal of halving food waste by 2030 compared with 2007 – as well as helping consumers save hundreds of millions of pounds every year on feeding the bin.
Andrew Clappen, M&S’s director of food technology, said the supermarket needed “to do all we can” to reduce the amount thrown away.
“To do that, we need to be innovative and ambitious – removing best before dates where safe to do so, trialling new ways to sell our products and galvanising our customers to get creative with leftovers and embrace change,” he said.
Reducing food waste is a vital part of tackling carbon emissions associated with farming and food distribution. Wrap estimates that as much 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions can only be tackled by changing the way we make and consume products and food. It said that removing dates on fresh fruit and veg can save the equivalent of 7m shopping baskets of food a year.
Catherine David, a director at Wrap, said: “We’re thrilled to see this move from M&S, which will reduce food waste and help tackle the climate crisis.
“We urge more supermarkets to get ahead on food waste by axing date labels from fresh produce, allowing people to use their own judgment.”