Sustainability charity WRAP is calling on the UK’s major retailers to sell uncut fresh produce loose after its research proves plastic packaging doesn't always prolong shelf-life.
In a report published on Wednesday (23 February), WRAP urged retailers to put an end to 'unnecessary plastic packaging' and Best Before labels on a wide range of fresh uncut fruit and vegetables in the UK.
WRAP said its latest research shows 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 simply by allowing people to buy what they need.
An 18-month project, with input from industry, to examine the link between food waste in the home and the use of plastic packaging, has challenged accepted thinking that packaging helps to preserve fresh produce, WRAP said.
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.
WRAP is now calling on the UK’s major retailers to rethink how they sell uncut fresh produce with three key recommendations:
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.
Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP, said: “This important research could be a game-changer in the fight against food waste and plastic pollution. 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.'
While most supermarkets already sell some items loose, the new research presents compelling evidence for significantly increasing the practice across a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, he added.
WRAP said the research also confirmed a point WRAP has long promoted - 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.
These new findings have prompted WRAP to reiterate its call (made in 2019) for the removal of Best Before dates from fresh uncut produce wherever possible.
The results of WRAP’s work have been shared with UK’s largest food retailers, along with the key recommendations. Whilst keen for its recommendations to be implemented, the charity said it acknowledges that this move is likely to take time and requires the whole sector to work together - and bring citizens on the journey too.
In the coming months, WRAP 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.