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Wrap finds mixed progress on ‘best before’ advice

Businesses have been urged to do more to help curb the impact the UK’s food waste is having on climate change after a survey found mixed progress in implementing best practice guidance for labelling and storage.

A retail survey published this week by Wrap analysed date label application along with storage and usage advice provided by eleven major UK retailers to help reduce food waste in the home.

The results were compared with those from the NGO’s last assessment in 2019 and showed progress in areas such as the removal of ‘open life’ statements for food products but further work needed to move from ‘use by’ to ‘best before’ dates where it is safe to do so.

The snapshot survey was carried out between August 2021 and March 2022 and focused on the items most wasted in homes including fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and bread.

Since 2019, Wrap has called for the removal of consumer-facing date labels on most uncut fresh produce, however the survey showed the amount of produce without a date label actually decreased in the latest set of results. Furthermore, ‘display until’ labels were still found on some uncut fresh produce.

Retailers performed better in switching from use by to best before dates with a particular increase in yoghurt and milk products carrying a best before date instead of use by. However, most yoghurts and milk on the market still carry a use by date, leading Wrap to call for more work to be done to move to best before where it is safe to do so.

Some food products saw significant improvements in removing open life statements which indicate how long the retailer or brand estimates the food should be good to eat once the pack has been opened. Wrap’s best practice guidance recommends removing open life statements where possible and in the case of hard cheese 19% of products assessed in the latest survey carried no such statement up from 1% in 2019. Wrap also found an increase in products with no open life statement across meats in general, however most milks surveyed had an open life of only three days, and more yoghurts were found with open life statements in 2021 than previously.

Wrap found a marked increase in storage advice promoting the use of numerical fridge temperature settings, rising by 10% on 2019 levels to 41% on relevant products, however it found a reduction in the use of the ‘little blue fridge’ icon which indicates that items should be stored in the fridge below 5°C to extend their shelf life, especially on uncut fruit and vegetables. Wrap said the icon was crucial for fresh produce as it is an easy-to-see prompt to put products bought at ambient temperatures into the fridge.

Freezing and defrosting advice has seen improvements with an increase in the use of the snowflake icon indicating freezing options on bread, meat, and poultry items.

If best practice guidance is implemented across the board, Wrap estimates the changes could reduce household food waste by at least 350,000 tonnes per year.

“How food is sold and labelled can have a huge influence in helping people better manage food at home. Excellent progress has been made in some areas while there is still lots of work to be done elsewhere,” said Catherine David, director of collaboration and change at Wrap.