Does this shop help us reduce food waste or make us buy more?

Filed in Blog by on November 12, 2014 20 Comments
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confused about use by datesThere is so much confusion around Use By dates on food.

The long and short of it is, USE BY dates are the ones you need to adhere to. They are linked to food safety and you’ll find them on products such as meat, fish and dairy.

BEST BEFORE dates you can safely ignore – these are to do with the taste, texture or colour of a product. The food might be past its best, but it’s certainly still edible and safe to consume. In most cases you won’t even notice any difference.

I’ve noticed an interesting thing on my Ocado receipts (for those of you not aware, Ocado are an online supermarket delivery firm who offer their own branded items as well as large household brands and some of the Waitrose lines).

I’m a huge fan of Ocado for their product ranges, easy-to-use online shopping experience and their excellent, attentive drivers.

On their receipts they list your items in ‘date order’. They say…

ocado receipt use by date

And here’s what one looks like:

ocado receipt in use by date order

The first time I came across this, I thought it was an excellent idea.

It meant I could get an instant visual on the things that needed using up first.

But on second glance you’ll notice they refer to everything as a ‘use by’ date; which could be confusing for the consumer.

For example, the products towards the bottom of my list – rice bran oil, coconut oil and flour will last for months, if not years. Yet Ocado still put a slightly confusing “Products with a ‘use-by’ date over one week”.

What do you think? Is this a great way to help us manage our food and use up the things that will go off first or do you think it’s misleading and might mean people throw things away that are perfectly edible?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth’s fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (20)

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  1. Sue Archer says:

    I think it’s a pointless gimmick. Get better life from food anyway by shopping in person and picking up longest dated items.

    • Mrs Green says:

      Oh yes, I’m the one who ruins the displays by pulling the milk from the back of the shelf so I can find the one with the longest date on it!

  2. Nicola says:

    it’s a good idea in theory but I don’t think it works the way they think it will. It would be useful when doing a meal plan maybe but I wouldn’t keep it on the fridge as its a bit confusing

    • Mrs Green says:

      Yes, I think it’s a useful tool for the beginning of a meal plan. But I do tend to go through the fridge daily and move into a prominent position anything that needs using up 😉

  3. Sue says:

    I too am a big fan of Ocado and have a weekly delivery. I’ve noticed this date ordering of items on the receipt and I must say it makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever. Unless I am using it that night my meat and fish goes in the freezer, dairy produce gets used up well before it goes off because I buy just enough for our weekly needs, I never look at dates on fruit and veg (mostly I buy it from farmshops where it is sold loose and date-free), it seems to me obvious when fruit and veg is past its best. Storecupboard items by definition do not need using up quickly. I find it quite bossy and patronising to be told I must use up my carrots by Monday, it assumes I have no clue how to shop and plan for meals also it implies that they will have to be thrown away if they are still uneaten on Tuesday morning which is encourages wastefulness.

    • Mrs Green says:

      Hello Sue, lovely to see you; thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have to admit I agree with you – I never take any notice of dates, except on meat (which is used up first anyway). Great point on buying from farmshops – of course there are no dates on those foods and we all survive!

  4. ever the mindful cook, just as msGreen, i sort the freshness potential of our fridge daily–up front goes the old, out behind stays the new..small leftovers are stored in transparent containers for creative re-purposing..that soupe-du-jour idea for end of the week lazy suppers. or perhaps a ‘lost bread’ sweet creation, with fruits and nuts, eggs and milk added to use up older breads..

    • Mrs Green says:

      An ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is the sure fire way to disaster – so keeping all that food up front is the solution. Like you, I love our end of week ‘Use it up!’ creations!

  5. Philippa says:

    They still haven’t got it have they?

    It is a shame that Best Before dates weren’t just banned. And the problem with eggs should have been sorted out by now too.

    Perhaps we should have a date packaged date or a date picked date?

    The idea that we have no idea at all of age and quality unless we can see labelling is utterly ridiculous. Look at the product folks not just the date – after all longevity depends on how it has been stored and transported!

    • Mrs Green says:

      I agree it’s high time that Best Before dates were no more! I’m sure something to do with that was on the cards a couple of years ago? I must dig out the story and find out what’s happened. And you’re right – storage and transportation has massive impacts on the longevity of fresh food.

  6. Admin says:

    Are we all so time poor that we have to have an on-line order and delivery of fresh goods? You do realise that you will get the items at the front of the shelf which will be the short life ones. The pickers and packers aren’t going to dig to the back to get the longest life items for you. Has the old idea of a store cupboard of staples gone out of fashion. First check what is in the cupboard, then decide a menu for the coming days and then decide if you could do just as well by getting the fresh stuff yourself on a need that day basis. Much cheaper than throwing stuff out in the long run?

    • Mrs Green says:

      Hi there; I’m not sure that people use online orders simply because they are time poor – there are a myriad of reasons (I have my own, which are nothing to do with ‘time poor’ but which I choose not to share on the site). I assume there are those without public transport – who perhaps live in rural areas -, those with limited mobility, full time carers, those who can’t carry heavy bags of shopping, people with health conditions which mean the logistics of doing shopping are challenging and those who are unable to get access to fresh food on a daily basis because of where they live. I agree with your idea of check the cupboards and meal plan around what you have – I’m a huge advocate of that as food waste is one of my bug-bears. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

      • Philippa says:

        I think Admin’s point about having a store cupboard of staples is right though. Don’t buy a massive amount of fresh stuff because it can be really hard work using it up when it is at its best ie freshest. Having a use it up list and only buying fresh for say three meals and then having some meals from leftovers (often the best meals) and some from store cupboard items eg beans on toast with an egg on top or sardines on toast seem to work well with us.

        Do you have to buy a minimum online and if so is that a problem?

  7. Girrr0 says:

    Good idea, it’s a step forwards anyway. Supermarket sales are dropping at the moment as more people shop locally. They are going to have think up new ideas to draw customers back. How about a web site where you can choose a recipie and they organise thee goods(less the ones you already have of course 😉 )

    • Mrs Green says:

      Hi there, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I find it interesting that you say supermarket sales are dropping – I wasn’t aware of that (too many Tesco corner shops in most places for local shops to get a look in!).

  8. Christine says:

    If you try one of the search engines you will find lots of articles like this one – http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/nov/18/uk-grocery-sales-decline-price-war-asda-sainsburys-morrisons-tesco
    Seems that it has been going on for months and that even the discounters are not rising so much recently as they were.

    • Mrs Green says:

      Thanks so much for sharing, Christine. The article is fascinating – even more so that the ‘big four’ are reporting losses, while Waitrose, Aldi and Lidls are on the up!

  9. Layla says:

    Woo, didn’t know shops do that! (Not around here, at least not yet!)
    I’d probably find it confusing and a bit patronising too, and probably wouldn’t put much attention to it…

  10. Grace Wolff says:

    I think that in theory, the ordering of the items by use-by dates is a great idea. That is really neat! I have never seen anything like it. While I think that it would help people plan meals in order to use the oldest/most likely to go bad items first, it does seem as though it would convince people to throw out food that is still good. Food that goes bad before we are able to eat it is a huge contributor to food waste, so I appreciate the efforts being made to reduce that waste. It is definitely a good step in the right direction, but some more education on the meaning of best-by and use-by dates is needed.

    • Mrs Green says:

      Hi Grace – welcome to the site and thanks for all your fantastic comments! I think your ideas are spot on – it can be helpful but can also contribute to food waste, depending on how much you follow the guidelines. The look, sniff, taste test works for most foods, but for, say chicken, I think we should follow the use by dates…

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