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Marks & Spenser to ditch 'best before' dates on most fresh fruit and vegetables

expiration date labels and fruit

GreenBiz collage. Expiration date stickers image via Shutterstock/avn99projects; Fruit image via Shutterstock/Inspiring.

Marks & Spencer is removing "best before" dates from a range of fresh produce sold in its stores nationwide, in a bid to cut down on food waste both in households and its shops, it announced July 17.

The retailer is planning to remove "best before" dates from the labels of over 300 fruit and vegetable products, which it said accounted for around 85 percent of its fresh produce offering, including items which commonly end up being wasted such as apples, potatoes, and broccoli.

Rolling out nationwide, the "best before" dates are to be replaced on the products with a new code which M&S in-store staff can then use to ensure freshness and quality is maintained, it said.

The move is aimed at cutting down on food waste, which some estimates have said may account for up to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to exacerbating food insecurity and hitting the pockets of consumers.

Waste charity WRAP estimates 6.6 million tonnes of food is thrown away by U.K. households every year, and "best before" dates have come in for increasing criticism in recent years for giving shoppers the often false impression that food is inedible after the listed date has passed.

"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," said Andrew Clappen, director of food technology at M&S. "To do that, we need to be innovative and ambitious — removing best before dates where safe to do so, trialing new ways to sell our products and galvanizing our customers to get creative with leftovers and embrace change."

We need to be innovative and ambitious — removing best before dates where safe to do so, trialing new ways to sell our products and galvanizing our customers to get creative with leftovers.

M&S has pledged to halve the amount of its food which ends up going to waste by the end of the decade, in addition to ensuring 100 percent of its edible surplus food that is not sold in stores is redistributed to charities and people in need.

Other steps being taken by the retailer to curb food waste include creating frozen garlic bread from unsold bakery products, providing free recipe suggestions to customers to encourage them to use up food leftovers, and partnering with food sharing app Neighbourly to redistribute unsold produce.

"The other side of the challenge is making sure anything edible we don't sell reaches those who need it most," said Clappen. "By partnering with Neighbourly since 2015 we've ensured over 44 million 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, director of collaboration and change at WRAP, welcomed M&S's decision to ditch "best before" dates from much of its fresh produce, which she said would help to reduce food waste as well as tackle the climate crisis.

"Removing dates on fresh fruit and veg can save the equivalent of 7 million shopping baskets of food being binned in our homes," said David. "We urge more supermarkets to get ahead on food waste by axing date labels from fresh produce, allowing people to use their own judgment."

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