“Use-by” Dates for Food and Beverages, South Korea’s Efforts To Keep Food Out Of Landfill

The South Korean government is revising its 38-year-old food expiration dates from ‘sell-by‘ to ‘use-by‘.
For decades, Korea has used a system based on ‘sell-by‘ dates, which reflect the producer’s estimate of when food tastes best. The date refers to the last day the flavour, smell or texture of a food product may be at its optimal quality. Although there are no safety concerns, most consumers here discard food according to the sell-by date.


From ‘Sell-By’ dates to ‘Use-by’ dates

The South Korean government is undertaking a nationwide initiative to establish ‘use-by‘ dates for 2000 food and beverage products, in an effort to decrease food waste. In August 2021, South Korea made a historic change to its food labelling and advertising regulations, replacing the previous expiration date system with a new ‘use-by‘ date system, marking the first major change in 38 years.
The traditional expiration dates were the ‘use-by‘ dates by which retailers were required to remove products from store shelves, often resulting in 60%-70% of the food still being safe to consume.
The revised ‘use-by‘ date system significantly extends the amount of time that these products will be available for purchase, as they are based on 80% to 90% of the safe consumption period. This is also expected to decrease the amount of food that is thrown away by consumers based on the dates printed on packaging.
The revision comes as the use of ‘sell-by‘ dates is leading to premature tossing of food that is still safe to eat. National Food Safety Information Service estimates that 5.48 million tons of food are discarded annually, costing 1.96 trillion won ($1.5 billion).
The government predicted this adoption of the use-by-date method is expected to save 886 billion annually, over the next 10 years.
Although the new program has been implemented, the Ministry stated that milk will still be able to be labeled with a sell-by date due to the unpreparedness of the distribution channels.

It will be difficult to change the food date labeling system that has lasted for 38 years all at once, but the new system will reduce food waste and provide clear information to consumers,” a ministry official said.

To minimize confusion and concerns during the initial phase of the new scheme, the Ministry has established a grace period. This grace period, set up by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, runs from January 1st to December 31st, 2023, and allows for observation and identification of any issues.

Towards Zero Food Waste in South Korea

According to The Guardian, South Korea has successfully reduced food waste to almost zero through mandatory composting. In 2005, the government prohibited burying organic waste in landfills and later, in 2013, banned the disposal of leachate, which is the liquid produced by decomposing food waste. Additionally, in 2013, a universal curbside composting program was put in place requiring everyone to separate their food waste from other types of waste.
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