Has the ‘Best before date‘ mention reached its own expiration date? Christian Schmidt, German Minister of Nutrition and Agriculture, is in favour of removing the date on packaging.
Consumer does not make the distinction
There are two ways to explain a food’s expiration date: the “Use before” (which means that date is the very last day you can safely eat that particular item) and the “Best before date” (which indicates a minimum period in which the item retains its flavour and nutritional value, if stored properly and unopened). However, if that date passes, it does not mean the product is no longer fit for consumption, even though many consumers do not make that distinction at all.
Germany has waged war on food waste for a while now, as the average German discards 81.6 kilograms of food every year, even though a sizeable portion of that number are products that are still safe to eat and in their original packaging. Over the past few years, the German authorities have tried to make the consumer more aware of that fact, stimulating them to buy smaller portions or to use leftovers in other dishes.
Awareness campaigns are insufficient
Unfortunately, these awareness campaigns were rather unsuccessful and that is why Minister Schmidt now proposes to eliminate the “best before date” from packaging. Many manufacturers stay well within the bounds of what is safe, to avoid possible litigation or complaints about colour or consistency. Durum wheat noodles have a 2 to 3 year expiration date, while they could be eaten many years after that without any potential health hazards.
That is why the Minister proposes to use the actual expiration date for a larger number of products, just like with perishable food. When applied, this expiration date is the one people will have to take into consideration. The Minister is also considering intelligent packaging, with colour codes to electronically indicate whether a product is still edible.
Such an adjustment would also have repercussions for the distribution branch, as the “Best before date” items that get closer to that date often get sold at discounted prices.