Public concern surrounding plastic packaging in supermarkets has grown over the past year, but its removal needs to be done carefully to avoid food waste.
That was the verdict from WRAP’s latest Retail Survey released today (5 November). It showed that despite some progress, retailers “need to do more” do cut down on food waste but the charity emphasised that plastic reduction had to be carried out carefully.
To help cut down the amount of plastic packaging used, WRAP has also updated guidance on applying date labels and packaging choices for fresh produce.
The Retail Survey indicates what extent the UK’s largest grocery retailers and major brands have “made progress implementing best-practice guidance on date labels, product life, pack size and storage/freezing advice”.
WRAP visited nearly sixty supermarkets and examined 2,000 food products – representing those most frequently waste in UK homes.
Looking at the positives, WRAP explained that a quarter of all pre-packed unprepared fresh produce now carry no date label, which aligns to its current guidance. Three retailers have removed best before on some fresh produce, with another committing to remove them from selected produce.
Also, the survey found that most all products had correct home storage advice and WRAP’s Little Blue Fridge logo has increased in prominence. This indicates when foods stay fresher for longer when refrigerated at home.
However, WRAP said improvements can be made as “little evidence was found of retailers having implemented guidance to remove open life statements except where food safety is an issue”.
For example, for hard cheese the average available life for block cheddar was 64 days, but 90% of packs carried advice to use within 5 or 7 days of opening.
And, more than 70% of fresh potatoes carry a Best Before label and the average available product life has decreased by around one day (to four days).
Commenting on the latest data, Peter Maddox, director at WRAP, said: “The way food and drink is packaged, labelled and priced can influence household food waste, and retailers and brands are uniquely placed to help minimise food waste in the home.
“Our research shows that people want clear, consistent information on pack to help them keep food fresher for longer. Overall, we’ve seen good progress from all, but we have also been very clear with each company where more work is required, and where they are falling short.”
WRAP has also updated its guidance on applying date labels and packaging choices for fresh produce, the most wasted food category in the home.
This guidance has been produced by WRAP, the Food Standards Agency and Defra, and expected to significantly reduce the UK’s annual food waste bill.
Measures include having a range of pack-sizes and formats, including loose, which can help to reduce food and packaging waste.
WRAP says that offering fresh produce loose gives customers the opportunity to purchase the correct amount for their needs.
On the updated guidance, Mr Maddox added: “Public concern has grown over plastic packaging since our last survey, particularly around fresh produce, and we have updated our guide to address single use, problematic plastics in this category.
“Removal of packaging must be done carefully to avoid food waste, and we now we have a clear set of principles that will help limit plastic use, and ensure removal is done in a safe and sustainable way. The other significant development we recommend is removing Best Before dates from uncut fresh produce where this doesn’t risk increasing food waste, and the guidance helps this decision-making.”