Little Blue Fridge logo

Food and drink companies are being urged to adopt a new labelling system for products that experts claim could prevent £1bn (350,000 tonnes) of food being wasted each year in households across the UK.

Wrap is understood to be in advanced talks with retailers about a rollout of the new system, which includes a new Little Blue Fridge icon to be used on food that should be kept chilled or lasts longer when kept in the fridge.

The food waste charity, along with the FSA and Defra, today published major new guidance on date labels and storage advice for food. They say it could tackle a big slice of the £5.6bn of food thrown by households each year.

Wrap said it had been in talks with all major retailers about uptake of the new logo and hoped it would begin to be rolled out on the shelf from the new year.

As well as the new label, the guidance also urges food and drink companies to revive use of the snowflake logo, used to show when products are suitable for home freezing. Use of the label has been rapidly dwindling, with its use in pre-packed bread, for example, plunging from 49% of products in 2011 to 38% in 2015. In chicken, usage of the snowflake logo fell from 69% in 2011 to 44% in 2015, while for cooking sauces the figures were even worse, down from 64% in 2011 to just 11% in 2015.

“A key way to help reduce household food waste is to give people as long as possible to use the food they buy,” said Wrap CEO Marcus Gover. “Labelling information can help with many aspects of this. Telling people clearly how long a product can be consumed once opened, and giving consistent and simple information about storing and freezing, will help people keep their food fresher for longer, and give more options to freeze the food and use it later - rather than binning food that could have been eaten.”

The three bodies behind today’s guidance also hope it can have a dramatic impact on increasing the amount of food being redistributed by retailers and manufacturers to those in need.

The new labelling guidance contains recommendations that they hope will help increase the likelihood that food surpluses are redistributed.

It stresses, for example, that ‘use by’ dates should only be included on foods where there is a risk of food becoming unsafe in a short period of time and for no other reason.

Wrap estimates the improved guidance could see a four-fold increase in the amount of food redistributed by retailers and manufacturers, from 47,000 tonnes in 2015 to 185,000 tonnes by 2025.

It said increasing the use of ‘best before’ dates was important as foods carrying the date label can be redistributed, even after the date has passed, as long as the food is still fit to eat, while ‘use by’ items cannot.

The guidance demonstrates that it’s perfectly legal to do so, amid widespread ignorance among many companies.

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey said: “We know that confusing labels can contribute to food waste by suggesting that edible items need to be thrown away sooner than is necessary. This new guidance will make packaging much clearer for consumers, saving them money and reducing waste. I encourage all food businesses, large and small, to use this guidance to help them put the right date mark on food and help to guide people on the refrigeration and freezing of products which are crucial to reducing the amount of edible food thrown away.”

FSA chairman Heather Hancock said: “Reducing food waste is really important to consumers. It’s a commitment we at the Food Standards Agency share with Wrap and Defra, and a growing majority of food businesses up and down the country.”