WRAP calls time on confusing date labels and introduces the little blue fridge

29th November 2017

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. 

New guidance, published today 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 within time.

A new addition is the call to use helpful logos alongside text more often, which consumers find easier to understand than text alone. The organisation is calling for the freezing Snowflake logo to be reinstated where it might have been removed, and introduces a new Little Blue Fridge icon for foods which should be kept chilled, or benefit from being kept in the fridge.

Environment Minister, Thérèse Coffey said: “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.”

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. Today’s publication carries forward this work in standardised industry guidance.

Marcus Gover, CEO at WRAP explains, “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. That’s why I’m delighted that industry has been so involved in developing this guidance, and for the support of the FSA and Defra. Now it’s time to implement these strategies and WRAP will continue to monitor how industry does.” 

Heather Hancock, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said: “I welcome this clear guidance to help tackle food waste, without compromising the safety of food. It will help businesses supply food that is properly described and stored, and safely provided to consumers. Reducing food waste is really important to consumers. It’s a commitment we at the Food Standards Agency share with WRAP and Defra, and a growing majority of food businesses up and down the country.”

WRAP is currently working with the UK’s largest food companies and manufacturers to help them implement changes across own brand and branded items. With the average retailer stocking between 20,000 and 30,000 different products, changes will take time to appear on shelf but early indications are that more changes will soon begin to appear. Already WRAP has 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.

And 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.

Surplus food redistribution 

WRAP research also found that the amount of food currently redistributed from retailers and manufacturers to feed people could be increased by approximately four-fold. 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, while ‘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, to tackle household food waste there needs to be a shift in actions taken at home and 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 this advice.

The organisation hopes this guide will help make this happen and is working to ensure that people at home understand and make the most of storage and labelling information. WRAP is using its Love Food Hate Waste campaign to deliver a series of digital campaigns about using and storing some of the most wasted UK foods, including potatoes, poultry and bread. The campaigns will focus on key behaviours driving food waste among 18-35 year olds, and include elements relating to the best ways to store products at home. November’s Save Our Spuds campaign focussed on storing potatoes and will be replaced with a poultry theme for Christmas.


Notes to editor 

WRAP, the FSA and Defra are specifically calling on industry to:
  • Select a ‘Use By’ date only when there is a food safety reason, otherwise use ‘Best Before’. 
  • Include only one date label on any product – no ‘Display Until’. 
  • Give people the longest time to consume food - maximise ‘open’ and ‘closed’ life*. 
  • Apply ‘use within x days’ advice for open packages only where absolutely necessary. Consumers may need to know where the food will deteriorate in quality once unwrapped, and plan to use it before that happens (rather than throw it away).
  • Provide clear written storage advice supported with symbols/graphics.
  • For chilled foods, apply consistent temperature advice ‘At home, store in the fridge below 5°C’. Ensuring the correct temperatures for household fridges and storing the right foods in the fridge can add an average of three days life to food, and save households £280 million a year. 
  • Always use the ‘snowflake’ logo where products are suitable for freezing with either ‘freeze by date mark shown’ or ‘freeze as soon as possible’. 

Publication includes the Best Practice on Food Date Labelling and Storage Advice Guidance supported by a series of category specific guides; including Fresh Produce and Poultry. These will be added to with guides for dairy, meat and bread products. The suite of resources also includes checklists designed to help the industry with food labelling choices and a dedicated best practice summary and checklists for redistribution organisations. 

The guidance has also been produced in conjunction with the FSA in Wales, FSA Northern Ireland and Food Standards Scotland. 

*’Closed’ and ‘Open’ life refer to the shelf-life before opening, and once it has been opening.
This work has been completed to support the Courtauld Commitment 2025 voluntary agreement, the first voluntary agreement to tackle resource efficiency across the entire food chain from primary production on farm to point of consumption. The Courtauld Commitment 2025 has a target of a 20% reduction in food waste in the UK per capita, which includes waste across the entire food chain. Achieving this target will help the UK achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 by 2030 (which applies to consumer and retail food waste) relative to 2007, when the UK began this approach to collective action.

In total, UK homes waste 7.3 million tonnes of food in the UK every year, of this 4.4 million tonnes is avoidable food waste.

Labelling guidance webpage URL: 
Long - www.wrap.org.uk/food-date-labelling?utm_source=PR&utm_medium=media-wrap&...
Short - https://goo.gl/ZHRVJS

About WRAP
First established in 2000, WRAP is a not for profit organisation and registered charity whose vision is a world where resources are used sustainably. WRAP works with governments, businesses and communities to deliver practical solutions to improve resource efficiency.

Our mission is to accelerate the move to a sustainable resource-efficient economy through: 
  • re-inventing how we design, produce and sell products,
  • re-thinking how we use and consume products, and
  • re-defining what is possible through re-use and recycling