UK Grocery Chain Sells Food Past 'Best By' Date To Combat Waste

U.K. grocery chain East of England is cutting back on the country's food waste problem by offering perfectly good food that's passed its "best by" date at a steep discount.


May 24 2019, Updated 9:00 a.m. ET

The East of England Co-op has 125 stores throughout the United Kingdom. With that kind of clout, the chain's ability to influence how people eat is pretty widespread. The BBC reports that East of England has decided to do something pretty revolutionary: sell food past the date it's recommended they sell it in order to reduce food waste.

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The U.K. alone produces 7.3 million tons of food waste every year -- much of it still perfectly edible, the Food Standards Agency reports. The "best by" date on packaging can still legally be sold, redistributed, and is usually fine to consume considerably longer than the date implies, but grocery stores don't keep the stuff on the shelves. Until now.

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The new campaign is called, "Don't be a Binner, have it for dinner," and offers food past its best by date at an extreme discount. The initiative was tested at 14 stores for three months before being rolled out everywhere, and East of England Co-op's joint chief executive, Roger Grosvenor, said it was an immediate success: Food sold out within hours of prices being reduced.

"The vast majority of our customers understand they are fine to eat and appreciate the opportunity to make a significant saving on some of their favorite products," he said. "This is not a money-making exercise, but a sensible move to reduce food waste and keep edible food in the food chain."

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Some people have wondered why the grocery chain doesn't donate such items directly to charity, but food banks don't accept expired products. The vast majority of products that will be a part of the program are tinned goods, packets, and dried food, and will last in customers's personal pantries; or on their stove tops, if they want to get cooking immediately.

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Items with a "use by" date are another matter. That label indicates the item (generally meat, fish, or poultry) is too perishable to last.

That said, East of England has also said the company is planning a more significant discount on items with "use by" labels as the end of their shelf lives approach. The hope is these sales will encourage people to buy and prepare food instead of letting it wind up in the trash. This system is also a great way to offer more food diversity and accessibility to low-income people or those who are on very tight budgets. 

Much better to have it on the dinner table than rotting in a landfill, after all.

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