Co-op to ditch use-by dates on its yoghurt to cut waste

The Co-op is removing use-by dates from its own-brand yoghurt in an attempt to address the problem of millions of pots that are still safe to eat being wasted each year.

Instead, starting next month, the Co-op’s own yoghurts will carry a best-before date, with shoppers encouraged to “use their judgment” to gauge if they are edible. About 42,000 tonnes of yoghurt – £100m worth – is thrown away in British homes each year because it is out of date, according to the food waste charity Wrap. Half are dumped in unopened packs.

Nick Cornwell, the Co-op’s head of food technical, said the “acidity of yoghurt acts as a natural defence. We’d encourage shoppers to use their judgment on the quality of their yoghurt if it is past the best-before date,” he said. “Yoghurt can be safe to eat if stored unopened in a fridge after the date mark shown, so we have made the move to best-before dates to help reduce food waste.”

The average family with children bins 244kg of food, or 580 meals, each year, with the total bill for this waste being £730. For an individual, the estimated waste figure is 69kg, which adds up to £210. This waste is bad for the planet because about a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with our food and drink.

While use-by dates are about safety, and applied to foods that go off quickly and could cause food poisoning, best-before is an indicator of quality. Food is still safe to eat after this date but the flavour and texture may not be as good.

Use-by dates are often found on products, such as milk and yoghurt, where a best-before one might do, a practice blamed for contributing to food waste. Things are starting to change, however. Morrisons recently switched to best-before dates on its milk, encouraging customers to use the “sniff test” to judge if it is OK.