In addressing our global climate emergency, one key area is gaining notable attention. Food waste needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We have discussed food waste management briefly in the past. Essentially, every time you throw food into your general waste bin, it stands to harm the environment, rotting and emitting methane.
Food labels have been a somewhat contentious issue in recent years – but they have gained increased focus in a global effort to raise awareness around food waste. Food labels are controversial in that they require a balance to be struck between food safety and food waste. Many consumers throw away food over food safety fears – often unnecessarily. Standardised, regulated food labels could certainly serve to address this.
Food label quick facts
- 1.9 million tonnes of food is thrown away within the food industry in the United Kingdom each year.
- In the hospitality industry alone, 18% of all food purchased will be discarded as food waste.
- In a recent UK survey, more than a third of people polled were uncertain about the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ labels.
- 11% of people surveyed believe they are the same thing.
- Storage and some ingredient information caused confusion amongst 85% of people in the same survey.
- 77% of people check food packaging on purchase. 15% claim to understand the content of the information on the labels.
- 490 million pints of milk is wasted in Britain each year.
- 66% of consumers say they would consume fresh produce after the indicated date on the label.
- Changes in food labelling could result in a reduction of food waste in the region of 1.1 million tonnes per year.
- Food waste exceeds plastic waste in the UK in terms of its effect on global warming.
What is the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ on food labels?
- ‘Best before’ refers to the time of optimal flavour, texture, and quality. Food will still be safe to eat after this date.
- ‘Use by’ refers to food safety. Food which has passed its ‘use by’ date is not safe for freezing, heating, or consumption.
- In the case of both ‘best before’ dates and ‘use before’ dates, the accuracy of these time frames is dependent on the correct storage of the food in question.
It is common practice for food to be discarded of when it reaches its ‘best before’ date. For example, cheddar is estimated to be usable for a period of 64 days. However, 90% of cheese packaging recommends use within five to seven days of opening. This results in unnecessary wastage. With so much confusion around food labelling and the meaning of the messages, food producers are tasked with simplifying these labels to make it easier for consumers. Indeed, it looks like ‘best before’ dates are to be removed from food packaging to prevent waste and prolong the life of many food products. This move means consumers will – occasionally – have to use common sense around how long they store food.
There is no disputing that date labels affect behaviour. Producers and retailers are going to be central to the future of food labelling. In certain circumstances, fresh produce does not require a date indication – and this could increase the life span of that product and prevent it from ending up in landfill.
TOP TIP: It’s all about education
Knowledge changes everything – and food best practices is no exception. Conduct regular training on best practices around food and understanding food labels. Apart from the environmental difference this collective attitude could make, it also stands to boost your bottom line and enhance your competitiveness within your industry.
Food label information
As it stands, all packaged food requires labels containing certain prescribed information. This needs to be accurate and not misleading. This recommends a range of different information which must be clearly presented to consumers on all packaging. This includes:
- Storage. Food stored for too long or at the wrong temperature can be hazardous to health. Additionally, food waste can be created by incorrect storage – and this can be avoided by detailed labelling. Information on where and how to store food will create optimal conditions to extend the shelf life of food. It will also indicate the length of time for which it is safe to store food products.
- Handling, preparation, and safety. Food labels also provide information on handling and cooking different food types to prevent food safety issues. It also provides essential information around allergens.
TOP TIP: What does your storeroom look like?
Don’t let food with near-expiring ‘best before’ dates get pushed to the back of your busy pantry. Adopt a policy of first in, first out in terms of ingredients.
The future of plastic packaging
How food is packaged has also become an important sustainability focal point. Plastic packaging is popular for protecting food and conveying essential information, but concerns around the burden on the environment have been a catalyst for change. Plastic is not only convenient, but can assist in food preservation. This has forced packagers to find environmentally friendly alternatives.
Those responsible for packaging foodstuffs have certain responsibilities around the materials they use for packaging and contamination.
Why is it important to talk about food waste?
- It is estimated that food production causes a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- Irresponsible farming practices can pollute the environment – pumping toxins into the air and contaminating soil and water. It can also lead to avoidable food-borne diseases.
- We have an ever-growing global population, estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050. That means existing food production and food waste needs to be addressed to ensure our ongoing ability to feed ourselves.
- Each year, cities generate 650 million tonnes of organic waste. This could double by 2030. From prevention of food waste in the first place to how this is collected and disposed of needs an innovative approach for a greener future.
The role of waste management companies in reducing food waste
The current rate of food waste production is forcing us to innovate. From how to prevent food waste in the first place (this is where food labelling comes in) to how it is collected, treated, and disposed of, the entire waste life cycle needs to be interrogated. In re-evaluating food waste, it is fundamental that we re-think food waste collections too. It is estimated that less than 40% of organic waste is recycled. Waste management companies stand to be pivotal role-players in generating awareness and easing the effective separation and responsible treatment and disposal of food waste.
Working with the waste management specialists at Smarter Business will assist in food waste strategy. In designing cost-effective, tailored waste solutions, our team brings expertise and benefits to businesses of all sizes, in all industries. By partnering with us, you also enjoy:
- 12 month fixed-price contracts
- Easy and safe payment methods
- Exceptional service