Millions of adults admit they struggle to understand all of the labels on food and drink packaging

Millions of adults admit they struggle to understand all of the labels on food and drink packaging - resulting in many binning perfectly good produce, research has revealed.

A poll of 2,000 adults found the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, as well as storage information and even the salt, sugar and fat content leaves 85 per cent confused.

While three quarters check food and drink packaging before they purchase something, only 15 per cent are confident they can decipher everything on the label.

And more than a third are unsure about the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, with 11 per cent believing them to be the same thing.

This confusion means around one in three end up binning food which is past its ‘best before’ date, while another 38 per cent do the same once the product has passed its ‘use by’ date.

The stats emerged in a study by Arla Foods, which will become the first dairy company to remove ‘use by’ dates on all branded fresh milk and replace with ‘best before’ dates, in a bid to cut confusion and help reduce food waste.

Fran Ball, director of quality, environment and safety at Arla Foods UK, said: ‘Our research shows that consumers are clearly confused about labelling on their food products, particularly when it comes to use by and best before dates.

‘As a nation, we waste around 490 million pints of milk every year.

“By making some changes to the labels on our fresh milk and yogurts, we want to make people’s lives a little easier and help to cut food waste in the home.

“To make sure everyone can easily understand our packaging, we’re asking them to tell us which label they want to see on our bottles.

“Because we are owned by farmers, we know how much hard work goes into producing milk to Arla’s high quality standards.

“If changing the label gives people the confidence that their milk might still be OK for a few further days after the date on the bottle, we’ll all play a part in reducing food waste.”

The study also found 59 per cent of adults assume milk is unsafe to drink once the date has passed, and 14 per cent admit they would bin it without checking to see if it could still be used.

But when it comes to fruit and veg, two thirds of those polled, via OnePoll, would happily consume this once the date has passed.

Other foods likely to stay in the cupboard past its ‘best before’ date include tinned food (70 per cent), sweets and chocolate (72 per cent) and dried products such as nuts and cereal (71 per cent).

Food journalist Kate Quilton said: ‘There is no reason to throw away food or drink that is past its best before date – in most cases it’s perfectly fine to still enjoy rather than waste it.

“A simple check or sniff of the food product will give you a good indication as to whether the product is edible.

“Arla’s pledge to change its date labels is a great way to help simplify this message and educate consumers that ‘best before’ doesn’t always mean it's ready to be thrown away, and that there’s some life in your food yet."

The new ‘best before’ labels will roll-out across all of Arla’s branded fresh milk including Cravendale, BOB and Goodness, with the entire yogurt portfolio also making the switch in 2020.

How to make your milk last longer:

• Put the milk into the fridge as soon as you get it home;• Don’t leave milk in the car for longer than necessary after you have bought it, ideally keep in a cool bag till you get home;• Keep your fridge at the correct temperature – between 1- 4 degree Celsius• Don’t leave the milk out of the fridge for longer than necessary (use a milk jug on the table rather than the milk bottle/carton);• Don’t drink directly from the bottle/carton;• Reseal the bottle/carton as quickly as possible after use.For more information and to have your say on how Arla updates its label, go to and cast your vote.