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Food date labels are changing

WRAP calls time on confusing date labels and introduces a new Little Blue Fridge icon
Food date labels are changing

The way our food is labelled is set to change to give shoppers simpler, more consistent storage and date label advice.

The move is to help tackle the two million tonnes of food wasted each year in UK homes purely from it not being used in time. A third of this food waste is triggered because of how shoppers interpret existing date labels.

A new standard

New guidance, published by sustainability experts WRAP and produced in association with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Defra, sets out best practice in the choice and application of date labels and storage advice.

It will be used by food manufacturers, retailers and brands as the industry standard and brings together recommendations that ensures food is safe and adheres to legal requirements, with best practice information to ensure it is stored and used in time.

Little Blue Fridge

A new addition is the call for a more frequent use of helpful logos alongside text, as consumers find this easier to understand than text alone.

WRAP is calling for the freezing Snowflake logo to be reinstated where it might have been removed, and has introduced a new Little Blue Fridge icon for foods which should be kept chilled, or benefit from being kept in the fridge.

‘We know that confusing labels can contribute to food waste by suggesting that edible items need to be thrown away sooner than is necessary. This new guidance will make packaging much clearer for consumers, saving them money and reducing waste.

‘I encourage all food businesses, large and small, to use this guidance to help them put the right date mark on food and help to guide people on the refrigeration and freezing of products which are crucial to reducing the amount of edible food thrown away.’

Environment Minister

Consistent and simple info

The guide has been developed following WRAP’s 2015 Retailer Survey, which found an overall ‘mixed-bag’ in food labelling and storage advice.

WRAP reported that changes to products, packaging and labelling made in response to earlier recommendations avoided nearly 150,000 tonnes of food being wasted in 2015, saving families an estimated £400 million.

‘A key way to help reduce household food waste is to give people as long as possible to use the food they buy. Labelling information can help with many aspects of this. Telling people clearly how long a product can be consumed once opened, and giving consistent and simple information about storing and freezing, will help people keep their food fresher for longer, and give more options to freeze the food and use it later – rather than binning food that could have been eaten.’


Improvements in shops

WRAP is currently working with the UK’s largest food companies and manufacturers to help them implement changes across own brand and branded items.

The average retailer stocks between 20,000 and 30,000 different products so changes will take time to appear on the shelf, but early indications are that more changes will soon begin to appear. WRAP has already noted the following improvements:

  • More pasteurised fruit juices and hard cheeses moving from ‘Use By’ to nearly all now carrying a ‘Best Before’ date
  • More fresh produce carrying advice to store in the fridge, to keep it fresher for longer
  • The use of ‘freeze on day of purchase’ being replaced by best practice advice to ‘freeze before the date shown’, particularly on fresh meat

As part of WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2025 voluntary agreement, businesses are exploring whether the ‘Open Life’ on bagged salads could be extended. This would result in people having an extra day to eat the salad once opened.

Redistributing surplus food

WRAP research has also found that the amount of food currently redistributed from retailers and manufacturers to feed people could be increased by approximately 400%.

Its new labelling guidance contains recommendations that will help increase the likelihood that food surpluses are redistributed. It stresses, for example, 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 and for no other reason.

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. ’Use By’ items cannot.

The guidance also helps demonstrate that it’s perfectly legal to do so, which currently not all organisations are clear about.

Getting the message home

WRAP estimates that technical changes to packaging and labelling identified in its Retailer Survey could help cut around 350,000 tonnes of household food waste a year by 2025, saving shoppers around £1 billion a year in wasted food.

However, we all need to change our habits if we’re to tackle household food waste. WRAP is calling on people to love their labels, stressing that we all need to take the time to note these important guides, understand what they tell us and act on the advice.

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