U.K. guidance on date and advice labels redrafted to tackle food waste

In a bid to reduce food waste, guidance to food businesses on how food labels should display dates and give advice to shoppers in the United Kingdom about storing and freezing have been redrafted.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) have been working on the new draft with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), since February.

food waste - date labels examplesThe guidance says use “Best Before” date and keep “Use By” only for when there is a food safety reason.

The partners held discussions with a range of food industry organizations in updating the guidance and have now published a draft for review and comment.

The consultation, which closes on 3rd August 2017, will seek industry opinions and views to “help shape the content, format and promotion of the new guidance.”

The new guidance should help to further reduce food waste in the home and make it easier to redistribute food.

Around 7.3 million tonnes of food are wasted by U.K. households each year. Of this, about 2 million is thrown out because it is not used in time, and research by WRAP suggests that at least a third of this is due to confusion about date labels.

Clearer use of date labels could prevent £1bn per year of food waste

From a survey that they carried out in 2015, WRAP estimate that improved labelling that is clear and consistent could prevent around 350,000 tonnes of food waste in the U.K. every year – at an annual saving of around £1 billion.

The revised guidance clarifies a number of aspects of food date and advice labels that influence consumers’ decision about throwing away unused food. For example:

– Use “Best Before” dates and only use “Use By” when there is a food safety reason
– Only show one date label on a single item (for example, do not show “Display Until” or similar as well)
– Only show “open life” guidance if safety reason not covered by “Use By”
– Display the “snowflake” symbol to indicate suitable for freezing
– Use “Freeze by date mark shown,” or “Freeze as soon as possible” rather than “Freeze on day of purchase”

Barriers to surplus food redistribution

The guidance also aims to remove some of the barriers to redistributing surplus food. WRAP researchers identified that in 2015, of around 270,000 tonnes of surplus food from producers and retailers that could have been redistributed, only 47,000 tonnes actually were.

Feedback from providers, recipients, and others involved in redistributing surplus food suggests that there are some barriers, which, if removed, could significantly increase the amount of food that is actually redistributed.

For example, some of the barriers concern date labels on the packaging of surplus food and confusion about what can and cannot be done at or after these dates.

‘All stages of supply chain’

The draft guidance also emphasizes the need to consider opportunities for redistribution of surplus food “at all stages of the supply chain, and not only in circumstances where the remaining shelf-life of a product is limited.”

Thérèse Coffey, who retained her post as Environment Minister following the general election last month, says that while the food and catering sectors have done much to reduce food waste, there is still a long way to go. She adds:

“We know that confusing labels can contribute to food waste by suggesting items need to be thrown away sooner than is necessary, which is why this new guidance will make packaging much clearer for people as they do their weekly shop.”