Environmental charity WRAP said a new research has raised questions on the accepted thinking that packaging helps to preserve fresh uncut fruit and vegetables.
An 18-month project conducted by WRAP, that examined the link between food waste in the home and the use of plastic packaging, has shown that selling fresh produce loose and removing date labels could prevent 14 million shopping baskets worth of food from going to waste and 1,100 rubbish trucks of avoidable plastic.
The charity has called for removal of more unnecessary and problematic single use plastic items under The UK Plastics Pact, including wrapping on multi-packs of tinned food and sauce sachets in restaurants. Its three key recommendations for retailers include:
- Sell loose – where possible, unless it is shown that plastic packaging reduces overall food waste.
- Remove date labels – unless it can be shown that a Best Before reduces overall food waste.
- Refrigerate below 5°C at home – Help your customers understand the benefits of storing appropriate fresh produce in the fridge, set at the right temperature.
“This important research could be a game-changer in the fight against food waste and plastic pollution,” Marcus Gover, WRAP chief executive, said.
“We have demystified the relationship between wasted food, plastic packaging, date labels and food storage. While packaging is important and often carries out a critical role to protect food, we have proven that plastic packaging doesn’t necessarily prolong the life of uncut fresh produce. It can in fact increase food waste in this case. We have shown the massive potential to save good food from being thrown away by removing date labels.”
WRAP tested five commonly wasted items (apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumber and potatoes) stored in the original packaging and loose and at different temperatures. The charity found that selling the five loose and removing Best Before dates could result in a combined saving of around 100,000 tonnes of household food waste, more than 10,300 tonnes of plastic and 130,000 tonnes of CO2e.
This saving comes from both enabling people to buy the right amount for their needs (potatoes, bananas and apples) and to use their judgement to decide when items are still good to eat.
“We are all living with the reality of the climate emergency and the rising cost of living. This new clarity could not be more timely. We need retailers to step up and follow our recommendations so we can achieve real progress in tackling food waste and plastic pollution. This helps save the planet and us money at the same time – a real win-win,” Gover added.
The research also confirmed that uncut fresh produce can be good to eat long after the Best Before date and most lasts longer in the fridge. When stored at 4°C, apples, for example, showed no signs of deterioration until two and a half months after their Best Before date and were still good to eat for some time after that. Broccoli showed no signs of deterioration until more than two weeks after the Best Before date.
WRAP said it has shared the findings with UK’s largest food retailers, along with the key recommendations, and in the coming months, it will continue to consult with the Food Standards Agency, Defra and industry over the recommendations as well as updating Best Practice guidance, and to develop a pathway for more fresh uncut produce to be sold loose.