UK online grocer Ocado has been criticised by a leading food waste campaigner for issuing “confusing and irresponsible communication” to customers. Ocado customers receive a delivery note with every order, which outlines how long food should be stored for. The phrase ‘use-by’ is employed even on products which also have a best-before date printed on the packaging – some of them many years in the future. Jonathan Straight, brand ambassador at food redistribution specialists Surplus Group, has called Ocado’s behaviour “clueless” and “unforgivable”, particularly in light of other high-profile initiatives the company has taken to reduce food waste.
The problem stems from the common confusion between a use-by date – which is about food safety – and a best-before date, which is about food quality. Food past its use-by date may be dangerous to eat, while the best-before date is a mark of quality and the food itself will still be perfectly safe to eat.
Consumer confusion about the difference between the two often leads to perfectly good food being thrown away. According to charity WRAP, the UK wastes 9.5 million tons of food every year, with some 70% of this being generated by the public at home. Clear and unambiguous labelling is crucial to addressing the problem of unnecessary food waste, an issue which Ocado itself has addressed in the past, describing the difference between use-by dates and best-before dates as “a minefield”.
Surplus Group, which owns the online surplus redistribution supermarket Approved Food, found items listed as use-by on Ocado’s delivery note included baked beans, pasta, tinned soup, cans of fish, jam and honey; all products that are clearly labelled best-before on their individual packaging.
Straight described the confusion as “beyond unforgivable”, adding that: “A whole industry is working to educate its customers to waste less. Yet every one of Ocado’s one and a half million customers has potentially seen this highly confusing and irresponsible communication”.
“We are calling on Ocado to immediately change its delivery notes to correctly identify the difference between what can be safely eaten past the date on the packaging and that which cannot – a list of products that are use-by and another list that are best-before, along with explanatory text about what the dates mean.”
An Ocado spokesperson told Grocery Gazette that: “Ocado has the lowest food waste in the industry and we do everything we can to help customers reduce their waste too. We are reviewing the wording on our receipts to make sure it’s really clear for customers.”