We live in an era when people across the developed world eat more and better than any other time in history. That’s certainly a good thing. What’s not so good: an epidemic of obesity and record levels of food waste. Within the EU alone, people waste a staggering 88 million tons of food each year at associated costs of some €143 billion, according to the European Commission.
“Wasting food is not only an ethical and economic issue but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources,” the commission notes.
“Want less, waste less” initiatives are underway on the continent to change consumer habits that are driving the continent’s food waste pandemic. By buying only as much food as they can consume, Europeans can be weaned off wasting tons upon tons of edibles.
Several prominent retails are onboard with those initiatives. Last year Tesco, which operates a chain of more than 6,550 stores in Europe serving 50 million shoppers, pledged to stop dumping leftover food that is still fit for human consumption in the UK. As a result, the company says that less than 1% of food at its stores is wasted.
Recently Tesco announced that it would stop using “best before” labels on some 70 fruits and vegetables, including apples, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, lemons and onions. Many such items are routinely left unbought, even when they are still fresh and edible, past “best before” labels and so end up being trashed unnecessarily. Produce waste accounts for 35% of all food waste in the UK.
“Originally, retailers introduced ‘best before’ labels in the UK to put on foods as a quality indication to show that although food is no longer at its best, it is still good to eat,” an online industry publication explains. “According to The Food Standards Agency, ‘the best before date,’ sometimes shown as BBE, is about quality, and not safety. The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best.”
According to a recent consumer survey, fewer than half of respondents even knew what “best before” means, while 90% of those asked said they would buy fruit and vegetable that wasn’t spotless anymore.
“We know some customers may be confused by the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates on food and this can lead to perfectly edible items being thrown away before they need to be discarded,” Mark Little, Tesco’s head of food waste, has been quoted as saying by the BBC. “We have made this change to fruit and vegetable packaging as they are among the most wasted foods. Many customers have told us that they assess their fruit and vegetables by the look of the product rather than the ‘best before’ date code on the packaging.”