Sell-by dates will be removed from food products under plans to be announced today by the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman.

She will call on manufacturers only to carry "use-by" or "best before" advice in an effort to reduce the estimated £12bn mountain of good food that ends up being thrown away after sell-by dates are passed.

In guidance being sent to food companies and supermarkets, the Government will say that "use by" labels should only be used where the food could be unsafe to eat after that date. The "best before" dates should indicate the product is no longer at its best but is still safe to eat.

Foods likely to require a "use by" date include soft cheese, smoked fish and ready meals, while biscuits, jams, pickles, crisps and tinned foods will only need a "best before" label.

The guidance has been produced in consultation with supermarkets, food manufacturers, consumer groups, food law enforcement bodies and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap).

According to Wrap, 5.3 million tonnes of still-edible food is thrown away each year, costing the average family £680 a year, with research showing that confusing date marks is one of the causes of the problem.

UK households could save up to £50 a month by not throwing out avoidable food waste.

Ms Spelman said yesterday : "We want to end the food labelling confusion and make it clear once and for all when food is good and safe to eat. This simpler and safer date labelling guide will help households cut down on the £12bn-worth of good food that ends up in the bin."

Liz Redmond, head of hygiene and microbiology at the Food Standards Agency, said: "There is a lot of confusion amongst customers about date marks. A number of different dates can be found on our food, so we need to make sure that everyone knows the difference between them.

"We always emphasise that 'use by' dates are the most important, as these relate to food safety.

"This new guidance will give greater clarity to the food industry on which date mark should be used on their products while maintaining consumer protection."