The first report into efforts to reduce date labelling on fresh produce has found 'more needs to be done'.
A quarter of all pre-packed unprepared fresh produce now carries no date label, while the available shelf life of other products, such as milk, has increased.
Sustainability body WRAP studied items at sixty supermarkets and across 2,000 food products as part of its latest Retail Survey.
For the first time each retailer was given a 'detailed assessment of its own performance, including where improvements are required'.
Peter Maddox, Director at WRAP, said: "The way food and drink is packaged, labelled and priced can influence household food waste, and retailers and brands are uniquely placed to help minimise food waste in the home.
"Our research shows that people want clear, consistent information on pack to help them keep food fresher for longer.
"Public concern has grown over plastic packaging since our last survey, particularly around fresh produce, and we have updated our guide to address single use, problematic plastics in this category.
"Removal of packaging must be done carefully to avoid food waste, and we now we have a clear set of principles that will help limit plastic use, and ensure removal is done in a safe and sustainable way.
"The other significant development we recommend is removing Best Before dates from uncut fresh produce where this doesn’t risk increasing food waste, and the guidance helps this decision-making. We see this being particularly useful for commonly wasted items like potatoes.”
Retail Survey findings
The amount of product life available to consumers has remained stable on many products. However, more than one-fifth of items found on shelf had just two days or fewer remaining life; including bread, minced beef and berries. For milk, an increase in 1.5 days of available shelf life was noted, which is excellent as an extra day alone could help reduce household milk waste by more than 20,000 tonnes per year.
A quarter of all pre-packed unprepared fresh produce now carry no date label, which aligns to the updated guidance. Three retailers have removed Best Before on some fresh produce, with another committing to remove them from selected produce.
Almost all products had correct home storage advice and WRAP’s Little Blue Fridge logo has increased in prominence. This indicates when foods, such as apples, stay fresher for longer when refrigerated at home. Eight retailers are committed to reviewing or amending storage temperature advice of “<5oC” to products. This is excellent, as it helps prompt people to check the temperature of their fridge and keeping fridges at the right temperature keeps food safe and fresher for longer.
There has been a significant increase in the use of the snowflake logo, rising from 15% to nearly 50%. The number of bread items now carrying the snowflake has doubled to 79%, which is excellent as freezing is a key way to extend life of bread items and reduce the likelihood of it being wasted.
More action required
Little evidence was found of retailers having implemented guidance to remove open life statements except where food safety is an issue. For example, for hard cheese the average available life for block cheddar was 64 days, but 90% of packs carried advice to use within 5 or 7 days of opening. Nine retailers are now reviewing or amending open life on yogurts and cheese.
Bagged salads typically have very conservative Open Life of just one day and more could potentially extend this.
More than 70% of fresh potatoes carry a Best Before label and the average available product life has decreased by around one day (to four days). More than 10 percent of 2.5kg bagged white potato, when surveyed, had less than two days available product life.
There are some instances of good availability of smaller pack sizes** - for example for dairy and meat items. However, while small packs of bread (400g loaves) were found in two-thirds of stores, they were on average 74% more expensive per kg than 800g loaves.
WRAP wants the phrase “Freeze on Day of Purchase” stopped. This can lead people to throw away good food, instead of freezing it up until the date mark. Three retailers have completely removed this and eight more are removing the remaining few products with this statement.
Changes to fresh produce packaging and dates
WRAP has also updated its guidance on applying date labels and packaging choices for fresh produce, the most wasted food category in the home.
Having a range of pack-sizes and formats including loose can help to reduce food waste. Offering fresh produce loose gives customers the opportunity to purchase the correct amount for their needs. Where fresh produce is packaged, the absence of a Best Before date – on some items – can also help to reduce waste by encouraging people to use their judgement more.