In a report published this week, Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that an increase on product life of just one day across a range of foods could prevent roughly 250,000 tons of food waste each year — in households and in the supply chain — by giving consumers longer to eat the food that they buy.
The “life” of a product is the time period over which food remains safe to eat, or over which the quality does not deteriorate to unacceptable levels, usually designated on-pack by companies through “Sell by” or “Best before” dates.
WRAP’s report, Reducing Food Waste by Extending Product Life, assessed the amount of product life available to consumers on shelf, and reviewed how product life codes such as “Use-by” and “Best-before” dates are currently set by retailers, brands and food manufacturers.
“The findings in our report are a real opportunity for industry. By implementing these simple recommendations, food manufacturers and retailers can make a big difference in the battle against food waste, without even having to change products and packaging,” said Dr. Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at WRAP. “We estimate that shoppers could save upwards of £500m, and businesses could save £100m in waste prevention alone.”
The study examined a range of popular foods; including sliced ham, potatoes, apples, mince, juice, chilled pizza and ready meals, ISB bread, chicken breast, bagged salad and milk, where there are typically high levels of waste. It estimates the potential overall tonnage and financial savings by scaling-up data from these products to all food groceries. WRAP’s findings give an indication of the significant potential benefits available to industry and consumers.
The report identified five opportunities to make simple and safe changes throughout the supply chain and pass on more product life to consumers:
- Retailers and manufacturers should challenge safety and quality buffers to try and identify opportunities to extend product life for the consumer;
- A standardised approach to ‘Open life’ guidance (the time an item is deemed safe to eat or retains its optimum quality once opened) should be used, and open life is used only for food safety, not where quality is the limiting factor;
- Supply chain practices such as stock rotation should be reviewed with a goal of increasing the available life for consumers;
- Delivery times to retailers should be benchmarked with a goal of improving performance; and
- WRAP continues to call for ‘Display-until’ dates to be removed from all foods and that only ‘Use-by’ or ‘Best before’ dates are used.
The recommendations do not compromise product safety or quality in any way, and do not require any changes to existing packaging or product formulations.
The report has the backing of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Dr Linden Jack, Head of Food Hygiene Policy Branch at the FSA, said: “We welcome these recommendations and believe they offer sensible proposals which could enable the life of a product to be extended without compromising food safety. The FSA’s number one priority is food safety and use by dates in particular have an important role to play in protecting consumers. However we recognise more needs to be done to help us all reduce the amount of food wasted every year in the UK.”
Food waste is a hot-button issue in the U.S. as well: Last summer, Massachusetts enacted a commercial food waste ban and the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN) published a brochure on packaging’s role in reducing food waste, while a recent Harris Poll showed that Americans were more worried about food waste than air pollution. Nonetheless, Europe continues to lead the charge on food waste elimination with business models including zero-waste groceries, campaigns such as ‘Fresher for Longer’, and apps such as FoodLoop, winner of the 2014 SB Innovation Open, which sends discounted deals on grocery items that reach their "best before date" in real time, directly to users' smartphones.