Supply chain changes could cut food waste

23 March 2015

Changes to the supply chain could save millions in food waste by increasing the life of products, according to a study.

WRAP estimated an increase of one day on product life across a range of foods could prevent around 250,000 tonnes of food waste each year.

The study, Reducing food waste by extending product life, examines how ‘use-by’ and ‘best before’ dates are set by food manufacturers, brands and retailers, for foods that typically have a high level of waste. They included sliced ham, potatoes, apples, minced beef, juice, chilled pizza/chilled ready meals, bread, chicken breasts, bagged salad and milk.

It estimated the potential overall tonnage and financial savings by scaling-up data from these products to all food groceries.

WRAP said between 1.3 and 2.6 million tonnes of food waste, with a value of between £3 to £6 billion, arises in the supply chain and home every year because the product date has expired.

The sustainability organisation argued simple and safe changes throughout the supply chain could pass on more product life to consumers. It recommended supply chain practices such as stock rotation should be reviewed with a view to increasing the available life for consumers.

The study found the product life available on shelf at the time of purchase can range significantly from product life ending the same day on which it is bought to product delivered on the same day it was produced. Delivery times to retailers should be benchmarked with a view to improving performance, WRAP says.

It also urged manufacturers and retailers to challenge the safety quality ‘buffers’ to find opportunities to extend product life. It calls for a standardised approach to ‘open life’ guidance – the time food is deemed safe or retains its best quality once opened – and that it should be used only for food safety rather than quality.

WRAP also wants ‘display until’ dates to be removed from all foods in favour of only ‘use-by’ or ‘best before’ dates.

The recommendations do not compromise product safety or quality in any way, and do not require any changes to existing packaging or product formulations, according to WRAP.

Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at WRAP, said businesses could save £100 million in waste prevention. “By implementing these simple recommendations, food manufacturers and retailers can make a big difference in the battle against food waste, without even having to change products and packaging,” he said.

The report has the backing of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Linden Jack, head of the food hygiene policy branch at the FSA, said: “We welcome these recommendations and believe they offer sensible proposals which could enable the life of a product to be extended without compromising food safety.”

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