Would you toss a container of yogurt after its “best before” date passes? Or are you the type to keep eating until the smell, texture and taste tell you to stop?
The majority of Canadians are against eliminating “best before” dates on food packaging in a push to reduce food waste, according to a joint report from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University and the Angus Reid Institute, released Thursday.
Thirty per cent of Canadians say that they oppose doing so, and even more — 32 per cent — say they strongly oppose it.
Consumers are influenced by date labelling, the report says, because 25 per cent of the population relies on “best before” dates as an indicator of food safety.
But that may very well contribute to food waste, of which Canada already produces a lot.
Excluding households, the Canadian food industry wastes an avoidable 8.79 million tonnes of potentially edible food every year, according to a 2022 report by Value Chain Management International, a food waste management firm in Oakville, Ont.
“When you’re talking about quality, safety is one of the components of quality. You cannot say that it’s a high-quality product if it is not safe,” Maria Corradini, an associate professor of food science and the Arrell Chair in Food Quality at Guelph University, told CBC News.
“But you can have a safe product that doesn’t have good quality.”
Most dates about quality, freshness
Only a handful of foods have actual expiry dates that determine whether they are safe to consume: among them are baby formula and liquid diet products.
Otherwise, most food products are labelled with “best before,” “sell by” or “packaged on” dates that indicate the quality and freshness of the provisions. The further from these dates, the lower quality the food becomes, especially in the case of perishables. But the dates don’t indicate that a product is hazardous or unsafe, according to Corradini.
“Eliminating completely any kind of dating is going to devoid the consumer from a source of information,” Corradini said.
“I think that some dating should be in the product, or some kind of cue for the consumer has to be incorporated in lieu of the static benchmarks that we currently have.”
Several European grocers — Tesco, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and most recently Asda — have been experimenting with new anti-food-waste initiatives, foregoing “best before” and “sell by” labelling on some of their products. The initiative targets commonly wasted items like milk, apples and potatoes.
“I’m not quite sure that that kind of policy is successful,” Corradini said. She says that dynamic, sensory-focused labels — which tell a consumer when a product has gone bad by describing taste or smell — will give a more accurate picture of when food has gone bad or not.