WRAP updates guidance on redistributing surplus food

New guidance has been published by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) pressing retailers and businesses to look beyond the ‘Best Before’ date to increase the amount of food available for redistribution to those who need it.

An image of a fareshare volunteer

The updated guidance released last Thursday (23 April) encourages food redistributors to consult the reviewed checklist and labelling guide, information originally released in November 2017, concerning date labelling and storage instruction requirements for surplus food in order for it to be safely redistributed.

Whilst the checklist outlines the label requirements for the safe and legal distribution of food, the guide urges the importance of visual checks to ensure food remains of good quality and sets out information on the four key food categories that typically carry a ‘Best Before’ date: uncut fresh produce; bread and bakery; ambient products packaged in cans, jars, packets; and frozen foods.

WRAP advises that different foods remain suitable for redistribution for different lengths of time; if stored correctly, food can be eaten days (e.g. bread), weeks (e.g. apples and crisps), months (e.g. biscuits and cereals) or even years (e.g. dried pasta and canned food) after the ‘Best Before’ date.

By not only encouraging businesses to consider food items, approaching or past the ‘Best Before’ date, but also giving organisations the confidence to accept them, WRAP hopes more food surplus will reach those who need it during the pandemic.

Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP, commented: “Food businesses are doing an incredible job ensuring that food which cannot be sold at this time moves around the supply chain to feed people, and isn’t wasted.

“Our guide will help by giving clear advice on how best to redistribute food that’s exceeded the ‘Best Before’ date. The law states that all food with a ‘Best Before’ date can be sold, redistributed and consumed after that date, as long as it’s still good quality, but we appreciate that isn’t understood by all, or universally implemented. So, our aim is to make this common practice.”

Richard Humphrey, Senior Coordinator of His Church, an organisation seeking to redistribute food to vulnerable communities, points to this issue, saying: “Sadly, not all our partners currently accept food past its ‘Best Before’ date, therefore, education is an ongoing need, especially about the difference between ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates. We are fully committed to ensuring all good quality, safe and nutritious surplus food is made available for human consumption, and as such, we wholeheartedly welcome this guidance.”

Reassessing our relationship with food during the pandemic

Cultivating good date labelling habits outlined by WRAP in its updated advice, is relevant to all householders in their efforts to cut their food waste, not just for surplus food redistributors.

With UK households being encouraged to stay at home during the pandemic and limit trips to the supermarket, it is more important than ever to make food last for longer and to ensure that unwanted edible food finds its way to those that need it.

The pandemic has resulted in disruptions to food surplus redistribution chains but has also seen efforts to curb food waste and new ways communities have sought to share food to those who need it. 

Read more: Four ways to reduce food waste during coronavirus lockdown

Mark Game, CEO, The Bread and Butter Thing said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has presented people with the opportunity to reassess their relationship with food. It means we think twice before we throw away edible food and will increasingly shift perceptions around concepts such as ‘Best Before’ dates.”

Jamie Crummie, Co-Founder, Too Good To Go UK underlined the “confusing issue” of labelling results in “720 million eggs being wasted by Brits each year because of confusions around ‘Best Before’ date labelling”.

WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign is promoting information on date labels to clarify the difference between ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’ and its associated A–Z storage guide relates how to keep food fresh for longer.

Maddox commented: “We estimate that over a typical year, around half a billion pounds worth of food is likely to be thrown away from homes linked to a ‘Best Before’ date, that’s 180,000 tonnes.

“Knowing the difference between ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’ is one of the biggest ways to stop food waste in the home. A ‘Best Before’ date is only a quality guide, and you can use your judgement as to whether it’s still good to eat. ‘Use By’ is the safety mark and there to protect us. No food should be sold, redistributed or eaten after the ‘Use By’.”

You can view WRAP’s updated guidance on its website.