23rd September 2011, 4:33pm
University experts contribute to new DEFRA food labelling guidelines
best before date Experts from the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing have welcomed the government’s new food labelling guidelines, having been involved in the consultations which have led to the changes.

The guidelines were reviewed following research by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) that found that 30 per cent of the food purchased in the UK is wasted, with around 8.3 million tonnes being thrown away every year. Much of this food was actually fit for consumption, however consumers were confused by the plethora of ‘best before’, ‘display until’, ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates stamped on the packaging.

Principal Lecturer in Food Manufacturing and Automation at the University of Lincoln, Michael Dudbridge, and Business Development colleague, Richard Turner, were invited by WRAP to bring their food sector experience and expertise to the consultations with representatives from food retailers, packers and manufacturers.

Mr Dudbridge said: “It is currently law that all pre-packaged food products must be marked with a date to indicate their ‘minimum durability’, that is, how long they will last if the storage conditions are followed.

“Over the years retailers have added additional dates to their packaging to help the staff in their stores spot when a product has been on the shelf too long and needs to be removed. These ‘sell by’ and ‘display until’ dates have no foundation in law and are confusing consumers. Some consumers were seeing two different dates on the packages and taking the safety-first route of discarding the product when the earliest date came around.

“As a result, large quantities of perfectly good and safe food was being discarded rather than eaten. Good food, in sealed packages, was being discarded because the consumer thought it was out of date.”

According to WRAP, shoppers in the UK spend £12 billion every year buying and then throwing away good food. That works out at £480 for the average UK household, increasing to £680 a year for households with children – an average of just over £50 a month.  

Food waste is also harmful to the environment. Throwing away food that could have been eaten is responsible for the equivalent of 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year – that’s the same as the CO2 emitted by one in every four cars on UK roads.

The new guidelines, issued last week by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), encourage a reduction in the use of the ‘use by’ date on packaging, reserving it only for foods which could pose a health risk to the consumer, such as chilled soft cheeses, chilled meat and chilled fish products. ‘Display until’ and ‘sell by’ dates will no longer appear, as the evidence showed that some consumers were taking these dates to be the shelf life of the product.

Mr Dudbridge added: “There is a vast amount of research being undertaken around the world into ‘active’ and ‘intelligent’ food packaging that will form the next change in our weekly shopping baskets. These improved DEFRA guidelines, however, are certainly a step in the right direction.”

For more information about the work of the National Centre for Food Manufacturing visit: http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/holbeach/

To view WRAP’s The Food We Waste report and subsequent research, visit: http://www.wrap.org.uk/
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