12 January - 20 June 2016

Up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste linked to date marking – EU

The Commission has published a study which estimates that up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste generated by the EU is linked to date marking. The study was carried out a part of the Circular Economy Action Plan examining EU date labelling legislation and its implications for food waste.

The Commission has published a study which estimates that up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste generated by the EU is linked to date marking.  The study was carried out a part of the Circular Economy Action Plan examining EU date labelling legislation and its implications for food waste.

The study, contracted to ICF, involved the team carrying out desk research on the use of date labels, reviewing the main categories of food contributing to food waste. Market research was carried out on nearly 3000 pre-defined food product categories from 1058 brands purchased from 109 retail stores visits in eight EU Member States.   Products selected included pre-prepared fruit/vegetables, pre-packed sliced bread, chilled fish, sliced ham, fresh milk, yoghurts, hard cheese, chilled fresh juices, pre-prepared chilled pasta and sauce.  Thirty nine food business operators and 19 National Competent Authorities representing the food sector, consumer and food bank operators were interviewed.  The interviews assessed awareness of the FIC regulations.

The study found fruit and vegetables accounted for the highest proportion of avoidable food waste, (16.2 million tonnes per year), followed by bakery products (10.5 million tonnes per year), meat and fish (4.8 million tonnes per year) and dairy products (4.7 million tonnes per year).  Date marking accounted for 6.8 – 8.9 million tonnes of food waste per year.  Of this 5% comes from manufacturing/processing, 55% from retail and 9.5-12% from household sectors.  The report notes that future proposals need to focus on these food product types.  Of the ones studied, it is stated that “the greatest opportunities for prevention of food waste in relation to date marking exists for milk and yoghurts, fresh juices, chilled meat and fish.  For other product types, the consumer decision to discard is more likely to be informed by visual clues that indicate a decline in product quality and palatability.”

Although the market survey results discovered that 96% of samples displayed a date mark and wording in line with the FIC regulations, there was a variation in date marking practices within product types and Member States.  In the 8 Member States studied only sauce, sliced bread and fresh juice had “predominantly the same type of date mark in all eight Member States surveyed.”  With some Member states using a “use by” and others a “best before”.  The report notes that identical products manufactured by international brands had “use by” date in one Member State and “best before” in another.   Stakeholder interviews discovered that producers take into account product characteristics when “determining how to apply the FIC regulations with respect to date marks” including consumer knowledge.  Producers also add a “use by” date mark where a best before would be more appropriate. They were found to err on the side of caution whereas retailers have a more consistent approach but used variations in labelling practice in national markets.

Apart from eggs and poultry meat, food business operators are responsible for shelf life, and choice of date mark. For some FBOs product life testing took into account variation among countries and retailers’ storage temperatures. However some retailers and suppliers are working together to improve shelf life.  Regarding storage instruction of the products, this varied and differences were seen for chilled products expressed as either a maximum temperature or a range. Interviewees reported a lack of consistency in storage advice.  Fieldworkers reported that the text used for date marks on products was too small, printed poorly with layout that was unhelpful. 

The report notes that there was a wide variation of practices for the sale of products passed their best before date, with some Member States discouraging or forbidding this practice.

The report concludes that avoidable food waste linked to date marking is likely to be reduced where a date mark is present, clean and legible; consumer have a good understanding of date labelling; use by date is only used where there is a safety–based rationale; the product list is consistent with the findings of safety and quality tests; storage and open life guidance are consistence; and there is a level of consistency in storage of food at retail and guidance for consumers regarding the temperature at which products should be stored in the home.

RSSL can ensure you have a full understanding of how a product changes over time. RSSL offer stability and shelf-life testing for ingredients and finished food products.  To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

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