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Insight of the Day: ‘Best before’ dates lead to a massive waste of food and money

The Problem

  • Arbitrary "Best Before" Dates:  Current "best before" and "consume by" labels on food products are very conservative, leading to a tremendous amount of food waste as consumers prematurely discard perfectly edible food.

  • Significant Financial Loss: This practice results in billions of dollars of wasted food globally, a substantial financial burden on consumers.

Potential Solutions

  • Smart Packaging to Detect Spoilage: Researchers at McMaster University are developing innovative technologies that can accurately identify food spoilage, including:

  • Sentinel Wrap: Detects spoilage and visibly changes.

  • Hand-held tests: Provide immediate results for retailers.

  • Lab-on-a-package: A self-activating test on packaging.

  • Sprayable gel: Contains beneficial bacteriophages to fight harmful bacteria.


  • Cost and Industry Adoption: While the cost of adding smart technology to packaging is estimated to be minimal, the biggest hurdle is convincing food manufacturers to make the change amidst rising prices.

Key Takeaways

  • "Best before" dates are often misleading and contribute significantly to food waste.

  • New technologies could accurately signal spoilage and reduce waste, saving consumers money.

  • The food industry needs to prioritize solutions addressing food waste, even if that means a slight increase in initial prices.

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