A new government-backed initiative is calling for consumers to sniff and taste their staple foods, rather than rely on ‘best before’ dates. Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, discusses product labelling and how ‘everyday Brits’ fall into the food waste ‘trap’.
Spearheaded by food waste reduction app Too Good To Go, the “Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste” campaign aims to reduce the mountain of food waste created every year by UK consumers who are terrified of eating or drinking produce after consumption guidelines have elapsed.
Indeed, according to research, 85% of Brits are confused about labelling, while 40% would categorically refuse to eat or drink food after the dates detailed on the packaging. As such, of the 10 million tonnes of household food wasted in the UK every year, fresh produce (such as bread, milk and vegetables) comprises an alarming percentage.
But while many follow labelling to the letter, findings from Good Food and The Daily Mail have shown that a wide variety of products remain perfectly edible well beyond their best before date. Canned goods, for example, will often still be safe to eat 12 months later, while dried pasta will keep for up to two years after the advisory ‘best before’ date. Milk can last up to seven days longer and eggs (if stored correctly) can keep for almost a month!
It is clear that finding new ways to test the freshness of our food, rather than simply relying on best before dates, is critically important. Not only would this cut our food waste, but we would also save a considerable amount of money.
As such, ReFood is fully supportive of the “Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste” campaign. Knowledge changes everything – and food best practice is no exception. Being able to judge the freshness of food saves time, money and prevents landfill waste.
According to research, 85% of Brits are confused about labelling, while 40% would categorically refuse to eat or drink food after the dates detailed on the packaging
But while there is a grace period (in some cases – a significant one), all foods are eventually no longer suitable for human consumption. So, what should consumers do with fresh produce that simply can’t be eaten?
If left to rot in landfill, food waste generates greenhouse gases 21 times more damaging than CO2. This is simply not a viable solution to tackle unavoidable food waste. Instead, we believe that homeowners nationwide should be provided with regular food waste recycling collections by their local authority – a separate caddy collected on a regular basis.
If this system was rolled out to every household across the UK, it would provide a far more sustainable waste management solution. Rather than being dumped in landfill, this would allow food waste to be recycled via the anaerobic digestion (AD) process and turned into renewable energy. At ReFood, we currently operate three such AD plants, collecting and recycling more than 400,000 tonnes of food waste each year.
Not only can we create renewable energy, but our facilities take the AD process a step further. The digestate by-product can be repurposed as a sustainable biofertiliser and used by local farmers in place of their conventional chemical fertilisers. In essence, using yesterday’s food to grow tomorrow’s crops!
Unfortunately, the decision to provide food waste recycling services is left to local authorities and, as such, only a minority of households nationwide receive them. This is a dated approach that results in millions of tonnes of food waste and sees the UK lag far behind other countries.
The most pragmatic solution would be a legislated ban on food waste to landfill, alongside the national roll-out of food waste recycling collection services. This has already been achieved in numerous countries worldwide and would prove instrumental to alleviating the impact of food waste.
A national ban relies on support and clarity from those in power, but if we were to achieve it, the results would be immediate.