Extending product life can cut food waste and save millions

3rd March 2015

WRAP estimates that an increase of just one day on product life* across a range of foods could prevent around 250,000 tonnes of food waste each year, in households and in the supply chain, by giving consumers longer to eat the food they buy.

In a pioneering new report published today – Reducing food waste by extending product life – WRAP has assessed the amount of product life available to consumers on shelf, and reviewed how product life codes such as ‘Use-by’ and ‘Best-before’ dates are currently set by retailers, brands and food manufacturers.

The study examined a range of popular foods where there are typically relatively high levels of waste. It estimates the potential overall tonnage and financial savings by scaling-up data from these products to all food groceries. WRAP’s findings give an indication of the significant potential benefits available to industry and consumers.

WRAP identified opportunities to make simple and safe changes throughout the supply chain and pass on more product life to consumers.

Dr. Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at WRAP said, “The findings in our report are a real opportunity for industry. By implementing these simple recommendations, food manufacturers and retailers can make a big difference in the battle against food waste, without even having to change products and packaging. We estimate that shoppers could save upwards of £500m, and businesses could save £100m in waste prevention alone.

“We have a fantastic opportunity to take action here – we’ve identified the business case based on savings in the true cost of waste and the potential for increased sales from better availability. Today’s report is part of our continuing work to reduce food waste and we’re keen to work with industry on how best to act on this information.”

The report sets out five recommendations** which show how and where adjustments in the supply chain (manufacture, logistics and retail) could increase product life for the consumer, and highlights opportunities to challenge how product life is currently set, and ‘Open life’*** determined. The recommendations do not compromise product safety or quality in any way, and do not require any changes to existing packaging or product formulations.

The report has the backing of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Dr Linden Jack, Head of Food Hygiene Policy Branch at the FSA, said: “We welcome these recommendations and believe they offer sensible proposals which could enable the life of a product to be extended without compromising food safety. The FSA’s number one priority is food safety and use by dates in particular have an important role to play in protecting consumers. However we recognise more needs to be done to help us all reduce the amount of food wasted every year in the UK.”

WRAP, the organisation that first highlighted the issue of food waste in 2007, will now work with industry to take forward these recommendations and explore other options to build upon the findings of today’s report.


Notes to Editor

  • *Product life is the time period over which food remains safe to eat or over which the quality does not deteriorate to unacceptable levels. Product life is indicated by either a ‘Best before’ or by a ‘Use-by’ date depending on whether quality or safety is the determinant. In addition, ‘Open life’ guidance is also seen on food packaging. Product life takes into account the entire journey that food undergoes from manufacture through distribution to retail sale, and home storage. The product life is set by retailers and brand manufacturers with consideration of both food safety and quality.
  • **WRAP’s five key recommendations for retailers and manufacturers:
    1. That retailers and manufacturers challenge safety and quality buffers to try and identify opportunities to extend product life for the consumer;
    2. That a standardised approach to ‘Open life’ guidance (***the time an item is deemed safe to eat or retains its optimum quality once opened) be used and that open life is used only for food safety, not where quality is the limiting factor;
    3. That supply chain practices such as stock rotation are reviewed with a view to increasing the available life for consumers;
    4. That delivery times to retailers are benchmarked with a view to improving performance; and
    5. WRAP continues to call for ‘Display-until’ dates to be removed from all foods and that only ‘Use-by’ or ‘Best before’ dates are used.
  • WRAP estimates that between 1.3 and 2.6 million tonnes of food waste, with a value of between £3-£6 billion, arises in the supply chain and home every year because the product date has expired. The report outlines assumptions made due to data limitations.
  • Reducing food waste by extending product life WRAP sampled more than 23,000 products and interviewed major retailers as well as food manufacturers and trade associations. WRAP selected 10 everyday products for in-depth investigation. These feature in the typical shopping basket and have high levels of waste in the home. They included sliced ham, potatoes, apples, minced beef, juice, chilled pizza/chilled ready meals, bread, chicken breasts, bagged salad and milk.
  • The report is accompanied by a presentation and a number of case studies including the Co-Operative Food.
  • WRAP works with retailers, manufacturers and brands through the Courtauld Commitment 3 a sector-wide voluntary agreement working to improve resource efficiency and reduce waste within the UK grocery sector. WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign helps people reduce food waste in the home. WRAP created and manages the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement that is helping this industry tackle food waste.
  • @WRAP_UK - #OneMoreDay

WRAP’s vision is a world where resources are used sustainably. It works in partnership with governments, businesses, trade bodies, local authorities, communities and individuals looking for practical advice to improve resource efficiency that delivers both economic and environmental benefits.

Our mission is to accelerate the move to a sustainable resource-efficient economy through:
• re-inventing how we design, produce and sell products,
• re-thinking how we use and consume products, and
• re-defining what is possible through recycling and reuse.

First established in 2000, WRAP is a registered charity.  WRAP works with UK Governments and other funders to help deliver their policies on waste prevention and resource efficiency.

WRAP is a registered Charity No. 1159512 and registered as a Company limited by guarantee in England & Wales No. 4125764. Registered office at The Old Academy, 21 Horse Fair, Banbury, Oxon, OX16 0AH. Find out more about our work in our Business Plan


Ian Palmer

PR Officer, WRAP
01295 819 677