Plans to make food labels clearer have been announced by the Government in a bid to crack down on unnecessary waste.

Supermarkets and shops will be issued with new guidance on how to describe products next month in an attempt to help cut the average £680 worth of food thrown away needlessly by households every year.

The main focus of the guidelines proposed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency is to try to help shoppers better understand the difference between 'best before' dates and 'use by' dates.

The initiative will also look into better ways to display date labels on food such as 'sell by' and 'display until' dates which are used by shops for stock control, as they often confuse consumers.

What does 'best before' and 'use by' mean?

According to the NHS, use by dates are for foods that go off quickly, such as smoked fish, meat and ready-prepared salads. Such items shouldn't be eaten after the date even if they look and smell fine.

Best before dates signify when the item is no longer in optimum quality. Except in the case of eggs, they do not signify when food has gone off but can usually still be eaten with no ill-effects afterwards.

Under European law best before or use by dates have to be kept. creator Martin Lewis says: "Best before labels usually have nothing to do with whether food is safe to eat, it's just a manufacturer's view of optimum quality. Plus it's an easy way to keep us buying more food.

"Unlike use by dates there's no rule saying you can't eat food after the best before date. In fact, you're still allowed to sell it for consumption and many people can buy perfectly healthy food at heavy discounts this way.

"We should only have use by dates on food when appropriate which ARE for health reasons and 'sell by' dates on food for manufacturers. For everything else we should use our eyes and nose."

Edible food thrown away

Research suggests at least 60% of the 8.3 million tonnes of UK household food and drink waste is avoidable, meaning 5.3 million tonnes of perfectly edible food is thrown away every year.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman says: "I am dismayed so much food goes to waste and if the date labels are part of the problem it's one thing we should be able to improve."