Fight against food waste gets political

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Supply chain, Food preservation

WRAP says more consistent labelling will help consumers waste less food
WRAP says more consistent labelling will help consumers waste less food
The Fresher for Longer (FFL) initiative – which brings together key industry bodies, environmental groups and politicians – is helping to forge a consensus on packaging’s role in reducing the UK’s high levels of food waste.

FFL evolved as an extension of the Waste & Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP’s) Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Along with WRAP, other partners include the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (Incpen), the British Retail Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation. FFL aims to help local authorities and firms communicate the benefits of using packaging to store food. These efforts will be showcased at a London conference on February 5.

Community partnership manager at WRAP Emma Marsh underlined the estimated £5.6bn-worth of food and drink thrown away by UK households because it was ‘not used in time’. This amounted to just under half of all avoidable food waste, said WRAP.

Save money

“This includes large amounts of bread, milk and fresh potatoes,”​ she said. “Providing consumers with clear and consistent labelling on-pack, communicating the benefits of using this information, and providing improved packaging functionality will help consumers waste less food and save money.”

She cited more standardised date labelling and storage or freezing guidance as examples of ‘clear and consistent labelling’. Improved packaging could include reclosability or enhanced barrier materials, Marsh said.

She added: “Food and packaging organisations, including retailers, manufacturers and trade associations, can consider how they or their members can innovate with their packaging, or inform consumers about the innovations they are already making around food labelling and packaging.”

Critical to modern life

For its part, Incpen has long campaigned for greater recognition of packaging’s essential role in protecting and preserving food. “Supply chain companies need to do even more to explain that packaging is as critical to modern life as the water supply system, for example, and that towns and cities could not exist without it,”​ said director Jane Bickerstaffe.

While stressing the role packaging plays in ensuring the sustainability of food supply chains, Incpen has little time for some other interpretations of ‘sustainability’ in a packaging context. “The biggest barriers to making packaging even more resource-efficient are the misconceptions about packaging and the single-issue approach, such as favouring single-material recyclable packaging over multi-material packs, which often provide a longer shelf-life,”​ Bickerstaffe argued.

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1 comment

Liabilities - manufacturer V consumer

Posted by Clive Brazier,

Food waste - Who owns the food once it is bought?

If I buy a vacuum cleaner, the manufacturer gives me instructions on how to use the product safely. The responsibility for the safe operation of the vacuum cleaner then passes to me. Subsequently, if I have an accident, the manufacturer can claim that they have acted with due diligence and can make that case in a court of law. So, how does this simple risk assessment discipline translate to the food industry?

An example of a sandwich I recently purchased gave me instructions to:

• Keep refrigerated
• Eat on day of purchase
• Use by end of 07/01/14

‘Keep refrigerated’ is an unspecific instruction, which the technical amongst you will probably say should be accompanied by a range of temperatures.

Firstly, as a consumer, I don’t have many tools at my disposal to check the temperature.

Secondly, once I have purchased my food, there has to be a break in the chill chain unless I take a calibrated cool box to the sandwich shop to ensure that the product keeps ‘refrigerated’.

‘Use by end of 07/01/14’ - At least this is good unambiguous advice.

‘Eat on day of purchase’ – Why? If I have bought the product on 05/01/14, kept the packaging intact and I have kept the product refrigerated, surely I can default to the previous ‘Use by’ information?

What the manufacturers are trying to do here is build in a level of product abuse by the consumer such as: opening the sandwich carton, eating half and leaving the remainder on the office desk for 4 hours.

Herein lies the problem. My vacuum cleaner manual clearly states that I should not attempt to repair moving parts whilst the machine is in operation and it gives me graphic descriptions of a crossed out screwdriver indicating that I should not attempt to access the electrics without having isolated the supply first. It assumes that I know absolutely nothing about machinery and self-preservation.

My sandwich manufacturer assumes that I have a rudimentary knowledge about food safety and that I will understand the correlation about the temperature of the product relating to spoilage or pathogenic bacterial growth. The good news for the manufacture is that I have got that knowledge. The bad news is that 60 million people in the UK have not.

To help reduce the obscene amounts of good food thrown away each year in the UK, a root and branch review of food education is required from primary school to labelling and all points in-between. We need to reassess manufacturer’s positions on their legal liabilities once the product has been bought / abused by the consumer.

The trouble is that there might be a limited appetite to resolve the problem. Thrown away food is good news for the food industry. The more food thrown away, the higher the sales.

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