The argument goes that consumers chuck out food that is past its sell-by date because they think it’s no longer safe to eat, even though it is. It would be much easier to understand a single date beyond which food cannot be consumed; so bad food is indeed thrown away, but good food is not.
Broadly, I think this is right. Granted, dropping the dates is not a silver bullet for the food waste issue, and the supermarkets have complained that the dates are a key mechanism in their internal stock control systems. But the move shows that the government is serious about tackling food waste, and this must be welcomed.
It also throws up some intriguing potential consequences and challenges for packaging. For one, we must suppose that if the measure works as Defra would like it to, less food will actually be sold. That isn’t great news; although exactly how sales will be affected remains to be seen.
And could sales drop off for those companies that sell coding and marking kit and consumables? Perhaps, although those exhibiting at the PPMA show this month didn’t seem to think this would be the case.
Rather, it was suggested that supermarkets could, in the longer term, move to using data matrix codes for stock control. Such a change could potentially bring about a new level of quality control into the multiples’ supply chain.
And with serialisation becoming a legal requirement in pharma soon, it may not be long before the same rules apply to food, too.
Josh Brooks is editor of Packaging News