Debate on best-before date produces new business ideas

Best before...


Unpopular products are increasing in popularity
Two Sheffield-based business partners, Dan Cluderay and Andy Needham, have decided to turn out-of-date food into a successful business idea. Their company, ‚Approved Food’, buys large quantities of residual food stocks from wholesalers and supermarkets – food that is either short-dated or past its best-before date – and then sells it to their customers.

Bump Mark – a layer of gelatin embedded in the packaging – is a freshness label that provides tactile information whether food is still edible or whether it has gone off. Photo:

Their stocks include above all tinned food, household goods and dry products, though also carrots, apples and lemons – in other words, anything that keeps for quite a while and doesn’t go off quickly. However, ‚Approved Food’ also sells seasonal items, packaged specially for occasions such as Christmas and Easter. Not only does this help avoid food losses and waste, but it also benefits the consumer. Approved Food apparently charges no more than around 70 per cent of the normal retail price. “None of our products,” says Dan Cluderay, “ ever pose any health hazards.”

Asda (UK) is currently trialling wonky vegetables, e.g. the carrots shown here. These are available at a range of supermarkets, along with food that is past its best-before date or which has lost some of its appeal for other reasons. Photo: Asda Stores Limited.

No best-before date for pasta, flour or rice
In the UK there has long been a distinction between the best-before date and the use-by date. The best-before date means that the food is not necessarily inedible after this date has passed, while the use-by date is reserved for perishable foods, such as dairy and meat products. Germany’s equivalent concept of a Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum (minimum shelf life date) is now due for review. This, at any rate, was suggested in a German newspaper headline recently, when an interview was published with Christian Schmidt, the country’s Minister of Food.

In the long term, the ministry is planning to abolish the minimum shelf life date for non-perishable items such as pasta, rice and flour. Instead, it will be replaced by the date of manufacture. Also, the existing expiry date for sensitive foods such as minced meat, smoked salmon and poultry will be extended. According to the food minister, we can expect to see an amendment to the relevant EU directive on food labelling and packaging.

Best before or best by dates are only advisory and refer to the quality of the product.Food kept after the best before date will not necessarily be harmful, but may begin to lose its optimum flavour and texture. Foto: Björn Wylezich /

Beautiful on the Inside – vital information on the packaging
Trade and industry are making specific efforts to prevent food from being lost or wasted. The two UK supermarket chains Asda and Sainsbury’s offer expired and slightly damaged goods at selected outlets – very much in line with Asda’s slogan „Beautiful on the Inside“, which describes fruit and veg with minor cosmetic flaws.

Industry – and ahead of the pack: the packaging industry – offers a range of innovative solutions to prevent food from being thrown away unnecessarily. Whether or not a product is still perfectly edible is indicated by smart, active packaging that carries electronic chips or sensors. This may take the form of a colour scale, ranging from green to red or it may be indicated by specific temperature details. Also, the shelf life of a food item can be extended through the use of a special oxygen-absorbing film, and harmful microorganisms can be destroyed by pulsed light.