Households in the UK waste two million tons of food each year simply by not consuming it in time. A third of this food waste is the result of the result of a confusing and counterintuitive labeling system. WRAP, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Defra have teamed up to change the way food is labeled and ultimately tackle the critical issue of food waste.
Together, the organizations have created a set of best practices in the choice and application of date labels and storage advice. The guidance is geared towards food manufacturers, retailers and brands and aims to become the industry standard. It brings together recommendations that ensure food is safe and adheres to legal requirements, with best practice information to ensure it is stored and used within time.
As part of the new standard, WRAP, FSA and Defra have called for the reinstating of visual cues, such as the freezing Snowflake logo and the addition of a new Little Blue Fridge icon for food which should be kept chilled, or would benefit from refrigeration.
The guidance builds on the findings of WRAP’s 2015 Retailer Survey, which found an overall ‘mixed bag’ in food labeling and storage advice. WRAP reported that changes to products, packaging and labeling made in response to earlier recommendations avoided nearly 150,000 tons of food being wasted in 2015, saving families an estimated £400 million.
WRAP is currently working with the UK’s largest food companies and manufacturers to help them implement changes across own brand and branded items. Already, WRAP has seen progress for pasteurized fruit juices and hard cheeses, most of which have moved from ‘Use By’ to ‘Best Before’ date labels. More fresh produce is now carrying advice to store in the fridge to keep it fresher for longer and the use of ‘freeze on day of purchase’ is being replaced by pest practice advice to ‘freeze before the date shown,’ particularly on fresh meat.
Recent WRAP research has indicated that the amount of food redistributed from retailers and manufacturers could be increased by approximately four-fold under the new labeling guidance. For example, it stressed that ‘Use By’ dates should only be included on foods where there is a risk of food becoming unsafe in a short period of time. Increasing the use of ‘Best Before’ dates is important as foods carrying this date label can be redistributed, even after the date has passed as long as the food is still fit to eat, while ‘Use By’ items cannot.
In addition to the new guidance, WRAP will deliver a series of digital campaigns about using and storing some of the most wasted foods in the UK under its Love Food Hate Waste initiative. The digital campaigns will focus on key behaviors driving food waste among 18–35-year-olds and include elements relating to the best ways to store products at home.
Similar efforts to curb food waste through smarter labeling systems have been popping up around the world. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food Safety Inspection Office (USDA/FSIS) announced plans to introduce a new regulation requiring brands to use the term ‘Best if Used By.’ The Consumer Goods Forum and Champions 12.3 have also issued a Call to Action to standardize food date labels worldwide by 2020.