The "best-before" label may soon be removed from a host of products in a new drive to tackle food waste from the European Union.
The European Commission is set to propose a bill next month removing the label from coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles. Abandoning the labels could prevent as much 15m tonnes of food a year throughout Europe, according to the Commission.
The Dutch agriculture minister Sharon Dijksma told the Agriculture and Fisheries Council that the labelling creates "confusion for the consumer, who thinks the indication concerns the safety of the product – while it is not like that".
The minister's comments echo those of a report by the House of Lords European Union committee, which found that only 37 per cent of consumers knew the difference between "best- before" and "use-by" labels.
The use-by label generally applies to goods that are highly perishable, such as meat and salads. However, the best-before label refers more to the quality rather than safety of food.
The proposals have received support from Austria, Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg but others were more cautious. “We are ready to talk about it, but we need a wider area of intervention”, said the Italian agriculture minister.
Goods past their best-before date may still be safe to eat but may lose some of their flavour. The UK government has promised to publish further guidance on food labelling but has not given a timetable for publication.
Close to 15m tonnes of food is wasted in the UK every year, with 32 per cent of consumers failing to check the expiry date before throwing away food. However, household waste in the UK has fallen by 13 per cent since 2006
The proposals have been condemned by the Federation of Italian producers as an attempt by northern member states to level down the food quality standards under the guise of reducing waste.