By Annette Chrysostomou
Should you eat food which is labelled ‘best before’? This was one of the questions where there is widespread misunderstanding among Europeans which leads to unnecessary food waste, and Cyprus was one of the EU countries where most people get it wrong according to a new survey.
‘Best before’ actually means people can consume the food, but the quality may have suffered, but in the Eurobaromter survey, 54 per cent of Cypriots believe it should not be eaten, compared with a European average of 24 per cent. Only 17 per cent of Cypriots had the answer right, one of the lowest levels in Europe.
The study sought to understand EU citizen’s perceptions, attitudes and practices related to food waste, in particular focusing on people’s understanding and use of food labelling, and to what extent this information impacted their consumption habits.
Most EU members take the labels very seriously, according to the survey, with 58 per cent saying that they always look the dates before they buy or use food. Cyprus was among the countries ranked highly in this category with 67 per cent saying they always checked the labels.
Respondents were asked how they would react if manufacturers removed ‘best before’ dates on labels for certain non-perishable foods, such as rice, pasta, coffee and tea, which currently have to be labelled with this information.
Opinion was very divided on this question at the country level. In Cyprus (77 per cent) and Greece (76 per cent), indicated that they would prefer ‘best before’ dates to remain on selected non-perishable items.
In Italy (69 per cent) and Malta (70 per cent) gave this answer. However, in 12 of the 28 Member States, only a minority regarded this information as necessary, with as little as a quarter giving this response in France, Austria, Netherlands and Germany.
In 23 of the 28 member states, most respondents said that they would continue to use opened food products beyond the recommended storage date if they looked all right. However, in Cyprus (58 per cent), Malta (52 per cent), Bulgaria (57 per cent), Greece (60 per cent) and Romania (65 per cent) a majority said that they would throw the food away regardless of how it looked based on the packaging instructions.
In almost all countries, only a minority reported that they would throw a package of spaghetti away if they could not be sure of its ‘best before’ date. The exceptions were Greece, where half of those polled said that they would throw it away, and Romania, where a majority (56 per cent) of respondents gave this answer.
Proportions were also relatively high in Cyprus (44 per cent) and Bulgaria (47 per cent).