Standardise food labels, food-dating practices

Due to the shortage of agricultural land in Singapore, a majority of Singaporeans purchase the bulk of their food rather than grow it themselves ("Food waste: E-book's food for thought"; Oct 25, and "Standard 'consume by' guidelines hitting expiry date?" by Mr Tay Kian Tiong; Oct 31).

This has led to a lack of personal knowledge regarding the quality and freshness of food, forcing Singaporeans to rely on expiry dates given by retailers.

However, current regulations regarding the food-dating regime in Singapore are convoluted.

There is a lack of standardisation of food-dating practices, which has served to deepen public confusion with regard to food labels. This often leads to consumers disposing of food that is still perfectly good to eat, exacerbating unnecessary food wastage.

While the Singapore Statutes has a set of regulations with regard to food dating, the exact wordings lack thoroughness.

Currently, retailers have to provide one of four date markers - "use by", "sell by", "expiry date" or "best before" - but none of the four labels has a clear definition.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority has defined "expiry date" as "the date after which the food may not retain its normal nature and quality". However, this is not reflected in the legislation that retailers may refer to.

As a result of this, food labelling in Singapore is more often than not left to the whims of manufacturers and producers, with little to no standardisation across the board.

While proper definitions are a step in the right direction, food-dating guidelines are also of the utmost importance.

In Britain, the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 properly defines the terms "best before" and "use by": The former is merely a guarantee of quality, while the latter is a guide to food safety.

However, consumer confusion still arises, as some retailers choose to solely print one or the other. Surveys conducted showed that much of the British population still mistakenly believe that any food past its best-before date could lead to food poisoning on consumption.

In essence, improved management of food-dating regulations in Singapore is essential to reducing food wastage.

This can be achieved via proper definitions of food labels in the statutes, an exhaustive guideline which lists the types of food label required, education of the public, and stricter enforcement.

Joel Low En Zuo