Use By, Best Before, Baked On…should we be tossing out so much food?

Labelling on foods can be confusing at the best of times. With star ratings, health claims, ingredients lists, percentage daily intake information, additive codes, marketing slogans and celebrity images all vying for our attention as we are rushing up and down the aisles, trying to finish this weekly, mundane chore as quickly and peacefully as possible, often with young, impatient company in tow.

An unfortunate side-effect of this confusion is an enormous amount of food wastage. According to Future Food 2050, around 33% of the foods purchased are discarded before consumption. 10% of this is because consumers think eating a food after the best before date is dangerous.

How ingenuity will feed the world.

‘Use by date’ labelling and ‘Best Before’ labels leave us erring on the side of caution; subscribing to the philosophy – if in doubt, throw it out! According to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), who regulate food labelling, the Best-before date refers to the date up until which the food will retain its best qualities, whereas the Use-by date refers to the date after which the food cannot be safely consumed for food safety reasons. By law, food cannot be sold to consumers after its use-by date. A further label often applying to bread and baked goods is Baked-on date, referring to the date on which the product was baked with no direct reference to when it should be consumed.

More details on best before and use by date labels can be viewed on the FSANZ website on this link:

Although this is only one factor contributing to food wastage, if we can modify our bahaviours slightly, it will have a significant impact. Best Before labelled foods should be judged on a sensory level: use your senses of smell, sight, touch and perhaps taste to decide if it’s okay to eat. If it smells ‚off‘, throw it out. If it looks bruised, shrivelled, browned, has mould, dry or different to the fresh alternative, throw it out. And, of course, if it doesn’t taste right, don’t eat it.

Alternative practices to simply ‚throwing it out‘ can be:

  • Use it to fertalise the garden
  • Invest in a compost bin
  • Recycle (especially the packaging where possible)

Forget about donating it, if it isn’t okay for your consumption, then no exceptions, it’s not okay for someone more hungry or in need.

In France, lobby groups successfully prompted a law that was passed unanimously by the French Senate in early 2016, making it illegal for larger scale supermarkets to throw away or destroy unsold food that was approaching its Best Before date. With huge amounts of foods being discarded by supermarkets, a common practice to discourage waste-bin foraging was for supermarket personnel to douse discarded foods with bleach, rendering it inedible. This is now illegal, with supermarkets being encouraged and rewarded for donating un-sold edible foods to charity groups who, in turn, distribute to the homeless and those in need.

So how can we, individually, make better choices? Our Understanding and Deciphering Food Labels Short Course takes an indepth look at the food labeling laws in Australia and internationally to help you understand what health claims mean and how you, as a consumer, can make informed choices, or if you are health/nutrition adviser, how you can guide clients to making better food handling choices before handing over hard-earned money at the checkout.

More information on our short courses is available at


Food Studies Australia Short Course:

Understanding and Deciphering Food Labels – Present and Future

Provide information to clients on food labeling regulations and practices Examine the future directions for food labeling & providing nutrient information to consumers

Course Content: With so many food health claims taking pride of place in the media these days it’s often best to go straight to the source to discover the facts. However, with food corporations trying every trick in the book to convince you that their product is super-healthy, even food packaging can be misleading. This course will present the Food Standards Australia & NZ food labeling policies, advice from respected National and State health authorities and other industry bodies, enabling you to truly understand food labeling. Not only is this a great benefit to you and your family, but fantastic information to help guide your clients toward better health choices.

This course is intended to provide participants with the following general education outcomes:

  • Assess health information relating to food and nutrition
  • Examine and research food labelling laws and practices in Australia
  • Understand health claims on food products
  • Inform clients about health claims on labels
  • Examine labelling issues for specific food industries – eg fish and seafood
  • Examine the future of food labelling in the food retail/fast food and restaurant sectors/menu labelling
  • Refer clients to accredited professionals when required

Author: Kristin McMaster, Masters in Nutrition, Grad Dip Business: Sport Management, Diploma in Fitness, Founding Director of Food Studies Australia, Founder of Fitnation PL

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