Supermarkets must stop telling shoppers to throw away good food by using “overly cautious” shelf life dates which contribute to two million tons of produce being thrown away in the UK every year because it is not used in time, the government has said.
A new draft guidance, written by the the Food Standards Agency, Defra and food charity Wrap, aims to reduce the 7.3 million tonnes of food thrown away in the UK each year, two million tonnes of which is due to it ‘not being used in time’.
The guidance requires retailers to remove ‘Use By’ dates on products unless the food is highly perishable and could harm human health.
On food that will not cause food poisoning, ‘Use By’ dates should be dumped in favour of ‘Best Before.’
Charities are often unable to pass still edible food on to people who need it because giving away food that has passed its ‘Use By’ date is a breach of food safety and labelling law.
The experts behind the new guidelines believe that more appropriate labelling would divert good food away from landfill and towards those who need it.
The guidance suggests that an “increase in product life of all perishable foods’ of just one day could help prevent up to 0.2 million tons of household food waste, potentially saving consumers £600 million on an annual basis.”.
The new guidance also encourages food businesses to end confusing multiple dates by scrapping the ‘Display Until’ or ‘Sell By’ labels and to extend the time the shopper has between opening the food and eating it, warning many of the ‘consume by’ dates may be’over-cautious’.
The environment, food and rural affairs select committee said in April that food waste costs the average person £200 a year and it has encouraged the government to tackle the problem of food waste.
Experts say that food businesses choose ‘conservative’ dates on how long food can be kept because they risk legal action or loss of custom if a consumer gets ill or the food is not the standard they have paid for, The Telegraph reports.
People are therefore throwing good food in the bin, which could be perfectly edible days after the dates on the packet if stored appropriately.
Andrew Parry, special adviser of food and drink at Wrap helped to draft the new guidance.
“There certainly seems to have been a movement to shorten these dates over recent years, some dates used to be longer,'” he said as reported in The Telegraph.
The food charity successfully campaigned to extend bagged salad’s open life, which the industry has now agreed to label so it can be consumed within two days rather than one.
Parry said there was a “virtuous circle” where the more that industry can do to educate consumers on how they can keep food properly, the more it can do to extend food life dates.
Producers have recently switched pasteurised fruit juices and hard cheese onto ‘Best Before’ dates, which shows when food is at its highest quality but does not place restrictions on sale and redistribution.
Parry said the issue was covered in the guidance as there was still a long way to go, even suggesting that milk may be one product that can be switched over as research indicates it turns sour before it causes harm.
It is feared retailers are reluctant to change dates on food because, as the guidance clarifies, it is “an offence for a person to sell or supply food which does not meet food safety requirements, or which is not of the nature, substance or quality expected by the consumer”.
The guidance, which is under consultation until August, also states that packaging should clearly instruct customers how to store food, and use the snowflake logo to indicate that most products can be frozen.