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Law firm DWF responds to DEFRA’s dates on food labels

"DEFRA’s guidance on the application of date labels to food, published on 15th September 2011, goes some way to resolving the confusion surrounding date labels, but it is guidance only, and does not alter or override EU or national legislation.

In the UK, pre-packaged food has often been labelled with one or more of the four date labels; "use-by"; "best-before"; "sell-by" and "display-until". The latter two dates, "sell-by" and "display-until" have been largely used for stock-control purposes by retailers. It is these two date markings (which have no legal significance) that DEFRA is urging the food industry to remove from packaging or make less visible, so as to avoid confusing customers which results in the unnecessary disposal of wholesome food.

Stories that the coalition government could have axed "best-before" dates are wide off the mark. EC Law makes it compulsory for Member States to label highly perishable food with a "use-by" date and to label other foods, (unless exempted by legislation) with a "best-before" date to indicate minimum durability.

This issue is being discussed at EU level, but any new regulations which result from Europe are expected to retain "use-by " and "best- before" dates for the foreseeable future."

Paul Atwood, partner of DWF’s food group

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