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UK households waste 7.3 million tonnes of food a year

New guidelines on food labels and food storage aim to reduce waste

UK households waste 7.3 million tonnes of food a year

Roughly 4.4m tonnes of the food wasted in the UK annually is avoidable, and 2m tonnes of this is as a result of food not being used in time. 

A third of this is because of confusion around the existing date labels, according to new research by sustainability organisation WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme). Many people are unsure about the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ labels and how to best store their food, which can lead to food being unnecessarily thrown away.

According to WRAP, its recommended changes to labels could help cut around 350,000 tonnes of food waste a year by 2025. It could also save shoppers around £1bn a year.

Your fridge is also an important factor in keeping your food fresh – if it’s slow to chill, or doesn’t keep a constant temperature, your food won’t keep as long.

If your current fridge freezer isn’t up to scratch, find a model that will keep your food at its best for longer with our fridge freezer reviews.

‘Use by’, ‘best before’ and ‘display until’ labels explained

Generally, a ‘use by’ date is about safety. It’s found on food that could be harmful if eaten beyond this date, such as fresh meat, fresh fish and packed salads.

‘Best before’ dates, on the other hand, are about quality. They’re found on longer-life food, such as cereals, bread and canned foods. While the food may not be at its best quality after this date, it’s not unsafe to eat.

However, there have been some cases where a ‘use by’ date has been used, such as on hard cheeses and pasteurised juices, even though eating the food beyond the date is safe.

Under new guidance set out by WRAP, these products, as well as others where there is no safety issue, will now carry a ‘best before’ date instead.

While ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates are required by law, ‘display until’ labels are not. They are often used by shops to help staff know when to keep food on the shelves until, and to rotate stock, so that food with imminent dates are stacked to the front.

New food labelling

To help clear up confusion, WRAP has recommended that manufacturers and retailers simplify date labels by getting rid of the ‘display until’ date. In addition, it’s suggesting that people are given more time to consume a product once it has been opened.

It’s also encouraging the use of the ‘snowflake’ symbol (above), to highlight which products can be frozen, alongside instructions on when to freeze.

Lastly, a new ‘little blue fridge’ logo has been introduced to signpost which foods should be chilled, or when storing in the fridge is beneficial to prolonging a item’s life.

Follow our simple tips to keep your food fresher for longer in your fridge freezer.

Food storage: what to do

Another major cause of food waste is food not being stored correctly. Storing food in the fridge can add an average of three days to its life and save households money by cutting waste.

As well as following the correct advice on your food, it’s important that you keep your:

  • fridge temperature between 0°C and 5°C
  • your freezer between -18°C and -20°C.

Food should also be stored on the correct shelves. For example, higher shelves in your fridge and shelves in the door will be a higher temperature than lower shelves.

Therefore, it’s better to store:

  • fresh meat and fish on the lower shelf;
  • condiments on the top shelf;
  • dairy, leftovers and ready-to-eat foods in the middle.

As part of our thorough fridge freezer testing, we scrutinise the time each appliance takes to chill and freeze, as well as whether the thermostats are accurate.

We’ve found that some appliances chill faster than others and are therefore better at keeping your food fresh and retaining nutrients, and others which do a poor job at cooling your food.

Find out which are the most impressive by taking a look at our Best Buy fridge freezer reviews.

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