Staff at Caffè Nero have been changing dates on muffins, cakes and scones to help sales and avoid waste.
An investigation by The Times found both current and former staff were aware of the practice, with some confirming they had changed dates.
Six former and present staff told The Times they had changed dates, 17 former workers said they were aware of the practice or had witnessed it, and a further 23 former and present staff had no knowledge of dates being changed.
After Caffè Nero was contacted by The Times, staff were ordered by management to check that not products had been relabelled with a later date. Staff were also told that nobody was permitted to change dates to avoid waste.
The Food Standards Agency has asked the primary authority that advises councils nationally to investigate.
According to Caffè Nero staff, date-changing arose as a result of conflicting duties placed on managers, who are keen to get bonuses to top up modest earnings of up to £25,000.
Stores face pressure to keep waste low, but are expected to have a display cabinet with a full range of cakes so customers will make impulse buys with their coffee.
A lawyer for Caffe Nero told The Times an instruction not to change labels was issued to its stores each month, and its food safety training also covered this point.
“This activity has never been tolerated in the 24 years of Caffè Nero. This has never come as an issue in the past. There is nobody in the leadership team that would tolerate such activity,” he said.
“Whilst Caffè Nero, like every responsible food retailer, is committed to minimising food waste and encourages employees at every level to ensure that stores are run efficiently, and not be overstocked with food that might go unsold or consumed, it is not the case that Caffè Nero employees are in any way incentivised to ‘change labels’. They are measured on effective forecasting and ordering of food; not prolonging food shelf life.”
He said Caffè Nero shops sell out-of-date food at the end of a day. The chain had logged only about 20 complaints on food issues a year to central office over the last three years.