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Guidance on application of date labels and storage advice

7 July 2017

A joint consultation on guidance on application of date labels and related advice has been launched by the Food Standards Agency, Defra Labelling and WRAP.

The guide explains how adopting some simple practices, while maintaining strict food safety principles, can reduce the risk of food ending up as waste, and help people make the most of their food.

The guide covers:

  • What the different date labels mean
  • How to decide what date to apply (and the consequences of this decision)
  • The importance of maximising both ‘closed’ and ‘open’ life, whilst ensuring quality and safety are maintained
  • The importance of correct storage guidance, including fridge temperature and freezing advice
  • What can and cannot be done as the date approaches/is past (at home and for sale/redistribution)
  • Responsibilities for food sold through normal channels and also food redistributed.

Fresh fruit and vegetables (but not including sprouting seeds and similar products such as legume sprouts), which have not been peeled, cut, or similarly treated, are exempt from the legal requirement to have a date label, but must at least include a lot number/mark on the packaging.

There is an expectation that cut fruit will have a ‘use by’ date applied. However, it would not be appropriate for products such as uncut fresh fruit and vegetables to have a ‘use by’ date applied as these products are not likely to cause a microbiological risk to health after a short period of time.

WRAP recommends that based on currently available research it would be preferable for pre-packed uncut fresh produce to carry a ‘best before’ date to help consumers manage the food they buy, whilst maintain quality and freshness.

WRAP research showed that while most consumers rely on judgement to decide whether or not to eat fresh produce, a significant minority (25%) felt uncomfortable with the idea of buying produce without a date. In 2015 between 66% and 876% of fresh produce packs carried only a ‘best before’ date (depending on the product type). 

WRAP is currently discussing with industry experts to assess what new insights might be available to inform a review of the recommendation on fresh produce labelling.

A decision tree is included in the guidance to assist decision making on appropriate labelling. WRAP recommends that it is best practice to reduce food waste by removing display until dates where they are being used alongside either a best before or use by data, so that only one date is visible.

According to WRAP most people keep fruit that would benefit from being stored in the refrigerator at room temperature.

Whilst not included in this guidance, inconsistent advice on storage of potatoes in the home has been flagged in a retailer survey. WRAP is setting up a focus group to discuss potato storage and guidelines.

You can find the draft guidance here – if you have any comments please email sian@freshproduce.org.uk by Monday 31 July so that we can respond to the consultation on your behalf. There is also a survey available online to respond directly to WRAP by 3 August.

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