A Tesco shopper selects a pack of bell peppers

Tesco to axe ‘confusing’ best before dates on its fruit and vegetables

Tesco will scrap “confusing” best before dates on nearly 70 fresh fruit and vegetable products in its latest move to reduce food waste.

Shoppers will no longer find date labels on some of the retailer’s own-brand apples, potatoes, tomatoes, lemons and onions, which it hopes will prevent them from being thrown away while still edible.

The move follows a campaign by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) into the causes of food waste, which found that less than half of respondents understood the meaning of best before dates.

However, more than 70% of people polled identified the meaning of compulsory use by labels, which have to be put on foods that carry a safety risk if eaten after that date.

That includes meat, fish and dairy products, but not fruit and vegetables, which have only best before dates. The latter are put on foods by retailers as a quality indication to show that though they are no longer at their best they are still safe enough to eat.

Food waste is a huge issue in the UK, with £13bn of edible food thrown away from homes every year, according to the government’s waste advisory body, Wrap. A further £3bn is wasted by the hospitality and food service sector.

Tesco’s head of food waste, Mark Little, said: “We know some customers may be confused by the difference between best before and use by dates on food and this can lead to perfectly edible items being thrown away before they need to be discarded.

“We have made this change to fruit and vegetable packaging as they are among the most wasted foods.”

The Food Standards Agency says: “The best before date … is about quality and not safety.”

Tesco is a signatory of the Courtauld Commitment 2025, a voluntary agreement by several leading organisations that aims to meet the UN’s goal of halving food waste by 2030.

David Moon, the head of business collaboration at Wrap, said: “This change by Tesco provides a good opportunity to learn about the customer response, and we anticipate Tesco will share its findings.

“With all fresh produce, appropriate storage including use of the refrigerator is essential in giving the customer more time to use their food, so clarity of storage advice on packs and in stores will be vital.”

Lynne Stubbings, the NFWI chair, said its members were “determined to ensure the UK is a world leader in tackling food waste, so we congratulate Tesco in taking this important step, and encourage all other retailers to follow”.

Last week the Co-op said it was ending last-minute sales of fresh produce to reduce the volume of edible food going to waste in its stores every day.