It seems that “use by” and “best before” – two legally-required date labels – sometimes get mixed up in consumers’ minds. While “use by” means an item would likely be spoiled after that date, “best before” means exactly that: the item will taste its best if you eat it beforehand. But many people throw away food as soon as it passes this date – without evaluating whether it’s still edible.
To prevent this from happening, Swiss food companies are adding another line: “often good for longer” [oft länger gut / souvent bon après]. The initiative comes from the creators of the Swiss branch of Too Good To Go, an international mobile app that makes it easy to buy surplus baked goods, salads and buffet leftovers at discounted prices.
This new way of labelling products should encourage consumers to use their senses to determine whether foodstuffs at home are still safe to eat. Does it look and smell OK? How does it taste? Of course it needn’t be a big bite; just a lick or a nibble is probably enough to test it. Unopened items like crackers and canned goods can be edible months past the “best before” date. Even opened ones – like jam – might still be fine unless too contaminated by dirty knives or fingers.
“People rely too much on the ‘best before’ dates and no longer trust their senses,” Delila Kurtovic, To Good To Go Switzerland’s marketing manager told Swiss public television, SRFexternal link. The new label was her idea.
So far, nearly a dozen Swiss food producers have agreed to use the label. Cheese and yoghurt producer Emmiexternal link offers this tip: “As long it smells and tastes right, and there are no visible changes like mould, you can usually eat it.” At Biottaexternal link, the new label on smoothies will be ”an invitation for customers to question the ‘best by’ date”. Biscuit and cracker manufacturer Hugexternal link wants its baked goods “to be consumed with pleasure and not wasted”.
According to the federal environment officeexternal link, 2.6 million tons of food waste is generated every year in Switzerland. “At least two-thirds of this is avoidable, meaning that the food is edible when it is discarded or was edible at some point prior to disposal. The rest consists of inedible components such as bones and banana skins (unavoidable losses),” notes the office. Not included in these figures are losses abroad related to imported foodstuffs.
Meanwhile, a study by the federal technology institute ETH Zurich calculated that the 2.8 million tons of food thrown away in 2017 was responsible for one-quarter of Switzerland’s food-related carbon footprint.
“The more food that is thrown away at the end of the production and marketing chain, the greater the environmental impact,” says the environment office. “The resources consumed are more numerous then, and more emissions have been produced for transport, processing, storage, packaging and preparation.” On top of the ecological impact, the waste hits private purses as well. The annual cost per capita is estimated at CHF600 ($600) per year, or CHF5 billion ($5 billion) for the whole nation.
Other players in the Swiss war on food waste are charitable groups like Schweizer Tafel, which won a prize earlier this year for its efforts to match soon-to-expire food with needy people. Established in 2001, it redistributes about 16 tons of food per day.