New Zealand supermarkets are legally allowed to sell products after their ‘best before’ dates. But could changing policies and labels be New Zealand’s answer to combatting food waste? Or should consumers just learn how to trust their senses when it comes to deciding whether food is still ‘fit for consumption’?

Representative for an environmental advocacy group, JoAnne Berkenkamp, said she sees it all the time that households have one person who sniffs and the other one who tosses. “The sniffers should win out,” said Berkenkamp.

Katherine Rich, NZFGC believes that it really is a decision for retailers. “Many already have relationships with food rescue services which deal with good food that needs to be eaten quickly,” said Rich.

“Offering foods past its best-before date is the easy part, but getting consumers to accept it could be a hurdle. Some shoppers won’t mind, while others won’t like it. Some extra consumer education is needed.”

Food manufacturers try and minimise food waste in each part of the supply chain from paddock to supermarket trolley.

Kroger has announced plans to standardise date labels for its private label brands to provide simpler, easier-to-understand product quality and safety information as part of its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social impact commitment.

“Kroger recognises food waste often takes place in our customers’ kitchens simply because product date labels can be confusing, resulting in safe-to-eat food regularly being tossed out,” said Howard Popoola, Kroger’s vice president of corporate food technology and regulatory compliance. “As Kroger works to reduce food waste throughout our business and our communities, we are standardising and simplifying Our Brands products’ date labels, providing clearer guidance to our customers.”

One in nine Americans struggles with hunger every day, while 40 percent of the food produced in the country goes uneaten, which includes the food waste created in shoppers’ households. And according to ReFED research, 20 percent of avoidable food waste is estimated to be discarded every year because of consumer date labelling confusion.

“Standardise date labelling is one of the most cost-effective solutions to reduce food waste and provide more resources to food banks across the country,” said Chris Cochran, executive director, ReFED. “We applaud Kroger’s continued leadership on food waste reduction and proud to partner with America’s largest grocer to help the retailer achieve its bold, commendable goal by 2025.”

Earlier this year, Kroger began to transition its private label products to feature one of the following date labels:

  • "Use By" is used to represent food safety. If a customer reads "use by" followed by a date, it indicates the deadline for when it is no longer safe to eat.
  • "Best if Used By" is used to represent food quality. If a customer reads "best if used by" followed by a date, it indicates the deadline for guaranteed freshness but does not affect the product's safety.

The simplified labels will apply to multiple product categories, including dairy, deli, bakery and fresh and frozen grocery.

Late last year, Tesco banished more best before dates in response to shoppers wanting to help reduce food waste. It removed over one hundred best before dates from its fruit and vegetables.

This followed research revealing 69 percent of customers wanting to scrap the best before dates and helped them keep perfectly good food for longer.

Sainsbury’s teamed up with Mumsnet to launch a campaign to help households quickly distinguish between what’s safe and what’s not with Best Before, Still Great After. It hosted in-store demonstrations to show that best before dated food can still be eaten and not thrown away.

When it comes to millennials and younger generations, over half of this demographic have a misunderstanding of the meaning best-before.

Supermarkets overseas are now implementing new technology to self-checkouts that alert customers when close to expired food is scanned.

A lot of the food that is purchased in NZ ends up in the rubbish bin. A 2015 survey by the Waste Management Institute found Kiwi households throw out more than 220,000 tonnes of food a year. Vegetables that are past their best make up the majority of this waste.