How can date coding help to limit food waste?

4 mins

According to a UN report, unconsumed produce accounts for 8-10% of global carbon emissions. Date coding could help to tackle the growing problem of food & drink waste for both retailers and consumers.

When a best before or use by date is visible, it encourages regimented views on the perceived quality of a product. Although necessary for certain items such as meat and poultry, in other circumstances it could lead to perfectly good food going to waste.

Do you throw away milk or eggs a few days past the best before date?

Do you reach to the back of a supermarket shelf to find the longest dates?

If the date was hidden, would you rely on your sense more than a date code?

Is there an alternative to date coding altogether?

Best before vs Use by – why do we have them and how can they be confused?

Unbeknown to many, different date codes have different purposes and should be read as such. For manufacturers, choosing the correct date code could be the difference between a product being used to its full potential or binned. However, the decision can be daunting, as consumer safety and brand reputation are on the line. Which is why you should read them as the below.

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Use by

You should not eat, cook, or freeze food past this date. If you did consume these perishable items, it could cause food poisoning and potentially make you extremely ill. The dates are calculated very accurately and should be followed, alongside the storage instructions on the packet.

Common foods with Use by dates are:

  • Fresh meat
  • Fresh fish
  • Certain dairy products
  • Fruit juices
  • Chilled ready-to-eat foods

When a product is mislabeled with a use-by date it causes food wastage. Here the fault lies with the manufacturer, who has forced consumers and supermarkets to unnecessarily follow a strict date.

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Best before

Best before dates (BBDs) are an indicator of a food’s quality after a certain date, rather than a strict safety measure. It is up to the consumers’ discretion how long they keep it for. A simple way to tell if a food is okay to eat, is through a “sniff test”, therefore relying on the senses to establish a food’s quality.

Common foods with best before dates are:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Certain dairy products
  • Confectionary
  • Dried goods such as pasta, rice
  • Baked goods such as bread, cakes, and biscuits

Best before dates are mostly confused by the consumer, who will presume they cannot eat food past the date. Retailers can sell food after it has reached its BBD, however it is common practice that shelves will be cleared, and food left unsold due to health and safety concerns.

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Display until or sell by

Display until is a reference date used by shops for stock rotation and control. They are not required by law.

Whilst the consumer should ignore these dates, it can cause confusion and be viewed negatively. It is argued that these dates are completely unnecessary and are openly encouraging supermarkets to dispose of perfectly good food.


An alternative to date codes

Although date codes do have their place in food manufacturing, could there be an alternative to the codes that encourage household and commercial food waste?

A recent experiment at Cornell university highlighted how 2D codes offer a potential solution. Best before dates on milk bottles were replaced with scannable barcodes to see if it had any effect on the buying habits of consumers. It proved successful with 60% of customers purchasing the milk with the QR code over a 2-month period.

2D codes prove to be a more accurate form of date coding because they give access to more detailed, up-to-date information. The effect of these codes on the public is twofold: the date becomes invisible and encourages them to use their senses when judging the quality of a product. It also provides cost savings for customers with dynamic pricing, by automatically adding discounts to products that are getting closer to their BBD.

For retailers and manufacturers, 2D codes on food offer control across the whole supply chain. Scannable barcodes provide full visibility of data; leading to accurate purchasing, less overproduction and less food going to landfill. A win, win for business and the environment.

Coding and marking can help reduce waste and enhance user experience.

Expertise from a reputable coding & marking company is the first step to reducing waste. The Rotech team have 190+ years of combined industry experience, all working on the front line of food production helping manufacturers reduce waste at every stage of the process.

Using Rotech’s on-line or off-line coding technology, you can print high-resolution, accurate dates and barcodes onto an impressive range of food and drink applications. As a result, you achieve peak traceability, improve your carbon footprint, and protect consumer safety. Our solutions range from:

Thermal Inkjet Technology

Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) is a zero-maintenance coding technology that can print (up to 600 dpi) 2D barcodes, date and batch codes, logos and images. The systems reduce waste on the production line with their recyclable ink cartridges and reduce waste across the supply chain with their ability to reliably generate accurate code.

Off-line feeding and handling systems

TIJ printers can be integrated onto Rotech’s off-line feeding and handling systems, which are designed and engineered in Britian. Print only what you need, when you need it with our off-line coders. These systems are perfect for boosting productivity levels where you may currently be labelling or date stamping by hand.

If you would like to have a chat with one of the team about your date coding processes, feel free to contact us!

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Related products and resources

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