USE-BY DATES CAUSE UNNECESSARY FOOD WASTE

The United Nations has said that 2.9 trillion pounds of food are wasted every year. When we talk about food waste, the onus falls on consumers to use what they buy – but this is wrong.

According to recent findings, food waste is occurring across the entire food supply chain. Retailers face problems with shelf-life, and restaurants struggle to use products by the use-by date – despite many products remaining viable after this.

Use-by dates have shortened over the years. This is done by manufacturers, who set the dates very conservatively to stay on the safe side. Supermarkets can’t legally sell a product after this date, so there’s little they can do to fight food waste in this respect.

On the other hand, consumers are often confused by the best-before/use-by distinction. A product can be safely sold and consumed after the best-before date – it’s just not at its best. According to

According to The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a UK charity dedicated to improving resource efficiency, the average British household wastes £470 worth of food annually — much of which is avoidable. This waste generates 19 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime. Removing this waste would be the environmental equivalent of taking one in four cars off British roads.

WRAP and the UK’s food standards agency have suggested that use-by dates be largely eliminated from stores and that a best-before date will do. This would stop retailers from having to throw out tonnes of viable food products every year.

Retailers can, however, choose to stock foods with technologically advanced packaging that prolongs shelf life. A product with a dynamic shelf life (DSL) can have its use-by date adjusted according to the quality of the product.

Sainsbury’s is currently testing DSL technology with its Smart Fresh label initiative. The label changes colour from yellow to purple as the product’s shelf viability decreases. For many perishables – like meats – this means that the colder the item is kept, the more slowly the colour change occurs. Once the label is purple, the product is no longer safe to eat.

The shelf life of a typical animal protein is between 20 and 90 days. That’s a relatively wide range for fresh protein, and can be maximised with modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). MAPs control the composition of air and moisture in an airtight container to decrease oxygen. Oxygen is the lifeblood of aerobic bacteria which is what causes produce to deteriorate so quickly.

MAPs allow manufacturers to alter the gas composition of a product by hermetically heat sealing meat in a smoothwall foil tray and applying gas flushing. The oxygen levels can be reduced from 20.9 percent to 0 percent. The oxygen is replaced with nitrogen or carbon dioxide.

Advanta’s use of these technologies has extended the shelf life of a pork rib ready meal to over four months. If more manufacturers implement these tools, retailers will be able to stock products for longer and consumers will have a huge surplus of time in which to eat the product – it prevents waste throughout the food supply chain. Adoption of these techniques and research into more could reduce food waste dramatically. With a current global food waste of 2.9 trillion pounds, any decrease is beneficial – to business, to the environment, and to the consumer.