New labelling guidelines have been published to help reduce the amount of food people chuck in the bin.
In the UK, two million tonnes of food is thrown away every year because it’s not been used in time; a third of this comes down to how shoppers interpret date labels.
“We know that confusing labels can contribute to food waste by suggesting that edible items need to be thrown away sooner than is necessary,” explained environment minister Thérèse Coffey. “This new guidance will make packaging much clearer for consumers, saving them money and reducing waste.”
The new recommendations – published by the resource charity WRAP, in association with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and DEFRA – set out best practice in the choice and application of date labels and storage advice.
For example, retailers and food brands are urged use only one date label, only applying “Use by” when there is a food safety reason to do so. They should also maximise the product “open” and “closed” life, giving people the longest time to use up the food.
The industry also needs to make more use of visual cues alongside any text. The “snowflake”, which shows that products are suitable for freezing, should be applied more widely. A new “little blue fridge” icon for food best kept chilled will also be introduced.
Given that the average retailer stocks between 20,000 and 30,000 different products, changes will take time to appear on shelf, said WRAP.
However, progress is already being made: more pasteurised fruit juices and hard cheeses are moving from “Use By” to a “Best Before” date; more fresh produce is carrying advice to store products in the fridge to keep them fresher for longer; and “freeze before the date shown” is replacing “freeze on day of purchase”, particularly on fresh meat.
The guidance is also expected to help increase the likelihood that food surpluses are redistributed. For instance, “Use By” dates should only be included on foods where there is a risk of food becoming unsafe in a short period of time and for no other reason.