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UK Grocers Doing Away With ‘Best Before Dates’ Amid European Crisis

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: August 29, 2022
UK Grocers are dropping best before dates in an effort to reduce costs amid the cost of living crisis
A “Till Closed” sign sits on a checkout at an Aldi store on July 22, 2022 in Tarleton, United Kingdom. Several major UK grocery changes, such as Asda, are eliminating best before dates from products amid Europe’s food, energy, and cost of living crisis. (Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

As every type of economic calamity hits Europe, such as droughts and excruciatingly high energy prices, several grocery chains have announced they will begin removing best before dates from products.

Aug. 24 reporting on the topic by BBC stated that the policy change was implemented by the Asda chain “to help reduce food waste.”

The article paraphrased the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) as stating that “the average family throws away £60 worth of food and drink each month.”

BBC notes that the best before dates will instead “be replaced by a code that Asda staff will use to check quality and freshness.”

MORE ON THE FOOD AND ENERGY CRISIS

According to WRAP Director of Collaboration and Change, Catherine David, the move is actually entirely a plus, “Our research has shown that date labels on fruit and veg are unnecessary – getting rid of them can prevent the equivalent of seven million shopping baskets’ worth from our household bins,” she told BBC.

The article also quoted the government’s Food Standards Agency as clarifying that best before dates are most applicable to “food like meat products and ready to eat salads which could be unsafe if left for too long.”

But despite the positive spin placed on the change by the media, in the official Aug. 24 Press Release issued by Asda, Head of Technical, Andy Cockshaw, admitted that the change was rooted in the cost of living crisis.

“Reducing food waste in our business and in customers’ homes is a priority and we are always looking at different ways to achieve this,” Cockshaw said. “We know for customers this has become more important than ever in the current climate as many families are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and are looking to make savings wherever they can.”

Asda is not alone in the move. According to BBC, Marks & Spencer “announced it would remove best before dates on more than 300 fruit and vegetable products,” while Waitrose announced at the beginning of August that the chain would eliminate the dates from 500 fresh food items.

Rival Tesco made the change in 2018, BBC reported, but under completely different economic circumstances and on only 70 items.

So just how bad is the cost of living crisis in the UK? According to The Guardian on Aug. 26, energy regulator Ofgem announced an increase of the command economy price cap that utilities can charge citizens by a staggering 80 percent.

“As the new price cap for a household with ‘typical consumption’ on a dual-fuel tariff paying by direct debit has risen to £3,549 per year – and is forecast to jump to £5,341 between April and June 2023,” the outlet explained.

The impact of the change made landfall on social media as well. On Aug. 27, Birkenhead-area pub The Rose and Crown posted a screenshot of “the latest ‘best’ energy deal available for a pub of our size.”

“We were paying 15p/unit in May,” the account stated alongside a screenshot for a revised quote for 97 pence per kilowatt hour.

The total estimate amounted to £6,215 per month, or £61,667 per year.

The situation appears to be dire for much of the UK’s working class. The Guardian’s article recounted the story of a 43-year-old NHS occupational therapist, who told the outlet that she had moved into “a van over the summer to save up and maybe be able to afford to rent a studio for the winter, but then the cost of living crisis kicked in.”

The woman added, “I’ve looked into the prices for gas and electricity and nearly had a heart attack. Even with my full-time job, I could under no circumstances afford a small studio plus bills.” 

“I’d risk spending 75% of my income on housing,” she continued. “Now with the increasing energy bills, the cost of renting a bedroom in a shared house is £800 in the community I serve – nearly 50% of my take home pay, and they’re rising. So even that’s a stretch now.”

Another 27-year-old man told the outlet that he’s “got [his] energy usage down to about £60 a month – though my energy company won’t let me drop my payments below £100.”

The method to his cost savings, however, is austere, “By showering at the gym, never putting the boiler on, cooking all my meals in batch and never switching the TV on.”

He elaborated, “The only energy I use is for my computer for work and maybe a lamp or two in the evening, plus the hi-fi for the odd bit of music.”

“Me and my old housemate were already down to an hour and a half of heating a day last winter,” he said, adding that during the previous season, they got through the winter by wearing a lot of clothing indoors.

“This winter I guess we’ll see how much we can afford.”

Earlier in August, the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made headlines when it began preparing for how to handle winter energy shortfalls that would result in the need for natural gas rationing and rolling blackouts.

In May, the government of Ireland ran a wargame simulation preparing for winter oil, gasoline, and electricity shortages that would involve deploying measures such as Coronavirus Disease 2019-style lockdowns, work from home orders, and rationing fuel for essential workers and first responders only while reducing the speed limit on motorways.