Study calls for end to food dates

Retailers have been told millions of tonnes in food and plastic waste could be saved if they ditch packaging for uncut fruit, vegetables and fresh flowers alongside an end to the use of best before dates.

Global NGO Wrap has released the results of its latest study which found that if the retail sector needs to rethink the way it sells uncut fresh products.

WRAP undertook the 18-month project with input from industry, to examine the link between food waste in the home and the use of plastic packaging, has challenged accepted thinking that packaging helps to preserve fresh produce. In fact, it shows that selling loose has huge potential to reduce food waste in our homes. The research also examined the influence of date labels and storage temperatures on food going to waste.

The result is a set of three recommendations which the NGO said will drastically reduce the lev4ls of waste.

It has urged retailers to sell loose where possible, unless it is shown that plastic packaging reduces overall food waste. It has called for the removal of date labels, unless it can be shown that a Best Before reduces overall food waste. Finally it has said the public should be told to refrigerate below 5°C at home.

WRAP CEO, Marcus Gover, added: “This important research could be a game-changer in the fight against food waste and plastic pollution. We have demystified the relationship between wasted food, plastic packaging, date labels and food storage. While packaging is important and often carries out a critical role to protect food, we have proven that plastic packaging doesn’t necessarily prolong the life of uncut fresh produce. It can in fact increase food waste in this case. We have shown the massive potential to save good food from being thrown away by removing date labels.

“We are all living with the reality of the climate emergency and the rising cost of living. This new clarity could not be more timely. We need retailers to step up and follow our recommendations so we can achieve real progress in tackling food waste and plastic pollution. This helps save the planet and us money at the same time – a real win-win.”

WRAP assessed five commonly wasted items (apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumber and potatoes) stored in the original packaging and loose and at different temperatures. The charity found that selling the five loose and removing Best Before dates could result in a combined saving of around 100,000 tonnes of household food waste, more than 10,300 tonnes of plastic and 130,000 tonnes of CO2e. This saving comes from both enabling people to buy the right amount for their needs (potatoes, bananas and apples) and to use their judgement to decide when items are still good to eat.

While most supermarkets already sell some items loose, the new research presents compelling evidence for significantly increasing the practice across a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The research also confirmed an issue WRAP said it has long promoted, that uncut fresh produce can be good to eat long after the Best Before date and most lasts longer in the fridge. When stored at 4°C, apples, for example, showed no signs of deterioration until two and a half months after their Best Before date and were still good to eat for some time after that. Broccoli showed no signs of deterioration until more than two weeks after the Best Before date.

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