Best before dates for foods are essential for Canadians: study

After some UK grocers scrapped best before dates on certain food products, a new study has found that the majority of Canadians prefer to keep these labels, even though getting rid of them could reduce food waste.

The study, conducted by Dalhousie University in partnership with the Angus Reid Institute, found that only 27% of Canadians agreed with the idea of ​​removing these labels from food products.

The UK’s major grocery chains, including Morrisons and Waitrose, have started removing their ‘use by’ labels on dairy and fresh produce. Morrisons announced earlier this year its decision to remove the label from its dairy products in a bid to cut food waste from its stores by 50% by 2030.

Of the 1,508 Canadians surveyed, the study found that only 15% said they would be willing to buy dairy products with no expiry date. Additionally, 73% of Canadians said they always look for the « best before » date on dairy products, while 32% said they do the same for packaged foods and non-perishables.

According to the National Zero Waste Council, an average of 63% of Canadian households throw away food that could have been eaten, which amounts to 2.2 million tonnes of food wasted in a single year.

While best-before dates can help reduce avoidable food waste, Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University’s food analysis lab, says factors such as quality and savings are too important to Canadians who stick to these labels.

“Canadians are not necessarily willing to see best before dates removed. They rely on them to make choices at the grocery store, whether it’s for freshness, quality and savings,” Charlebois told in a phone interview Thursday.

Charlebois said much of the food waste is related to shoppers forgetting to eat the food they buy or throwing away food they deem unsafe to eat if it’s passed the expiration date, rather than to inspect the product. The study found that 28% of Canadians will check their products for mold, while 25% will rely solely on the “best before” date.

Additionally, Charlebois said Canadians prefer « best before » labels so they can save money on discounted items that are about to reach their best before date.

« Best before dates are often used to get access to better deals, especially right now. [with] inflation being 10 percent. Everybody’s looking for those ‘Enjoy Tonight’ deals,” he said.

Charlebois said Canadians should consider best before dates as a general rule rather than an ultimate deciding factor for all food products.

« Essentially, education doesn’t exist in Canada, » he said.

« Best before dates don’t necessarily mean ‘bad after’, because it isn’t. The product is actually still good even though the best before date has passed. »


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