Marks and Spencer is removing ‘best before’ dates from more than 300 fruit and vegetables to help combat food waste.
The dates will instead be replaced by a code that staff can use to check freshness and quality.
When will best before labels be removed?
The change is being rolled out across all M&S UK stores from this week and will affect 85% of the supermarket’s fresh produce offering.
The move is intended to encourage customers to throw away less edible food at home by using their judgement.
It follows similar moves by fellow supermarkets, including Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op, that have scrapped “use by” dates on some of their products.
The decision marks the latest step in the slow removal of ‘best before’ dates - a creation measuring the looks of the product. ‘Use by’ dates, by comparison, refer to the date which perishable food can be cooked and consumed safely.
The Food Standards Agency says it is up to manufacturers to decide whether to apply a use by or a best before date on their products, depending on factors such as how the food is made and how risky it is.
M&S is aiming to halve food waste from its products by 2030, compared with 2018, and wants to redistribute 100% of edible surplus food by 2025.
Those targets would line up with the UK’s commitment to meet the United Nations goal of halving food waste by 2030 compared with 2007 and help consumers save hundreds of millions of pounds every year.
Why are supermarkets making this change?
Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) shows an estimated 6.6m million tonnes of food is thrown away by UK households a year.
As part of its ‘Plan A’ sustainability roadmap, M&S has pledged to halve food waste by 2030, with 100% of edible surplus to be redistributed by 2025.
As well as reducing the number of best before dates, the retailer is also taking several other steps to cut food waste, including:
- Partnering with Neighbourly - M&S has donated more than 44million meals to charities by partnering with Neighbourly since 2015, where store teams work closely with their local communities to ensure edible food surplus is redistributed
- 25p banana bag scheme - the scheme was launched last year and allows customers to buy a minimum of three ready to eat bananas along with two delicious recipes
- Creating frozen garlic bread from unsold bakery products - more than 200 M&S stores use unsold baguettes and boules, which are baked fresh daily, to create frozen garlic bread, preparing them and adding garlic butter at the end of each day
- Sparking Change National Challenge - helping customers to reduce food waste with Love your leftovers recipes, such as blueberry and banana pancakes, as well as expert tips on batch cooking and storing food to make it last longer
Andrew Clappen, M&S’s director of food technology, said the supermarket needed “to do all we can” to reduce the amount thrown away.
He explained: “We’re determined to tackle food waste – our teams and suppliers work hard to deliver fresh, delicious, responsibly sourced produce at great value and we need to do all we can to make sure none of it gets thrown away.
“To do that, we need to be innovative and ambitious – removing best before dates where safe to do so, trialling new ways to sell our products and galvanising our customers to get creative with leftovers and embrace change.
“The other side of the challenge is making sure anything edible we don’t sell reaches those who need it most. By partnering with Neighbourly since 2015 we’ve ensured over 44million meals are redistributed to local communities.
“Our promise as we aim for our target of halving food waste is to keep searching for solutions while we maintain the standards and value our customers expect.”
Catherine David, a director at WRAP, added: “We’re thrilled to see this move from M&S, which will reduce food waste and help tackle the climate crisis.
“We urge more supermarkets to get ahead on food waste by axing date labels from fresh produce, allowing people to use their own judgment.”
Have other supermarkets scrapped best before dates?
Tesco scrapped best before dates on more than 100 fruit and vegetable products in 2018.
In January 2022, Morrisons announced its plan to remove use by dates from 90% of its own brand milk and encouraged customers to use a “sniff test” instead.
Lidl also says it does not include best before information to reduce food waste.