Is removing best before dates the answer to food waste?

This article is sponsored by Tetra Pack.

Use-by, best-before or sell-by dates have a big impact on food waste because they determine consumer behavior. However, these dates don’t necessarily indicate whether something is safe to consume, and even vary depending on where you live. For instance, milk in montana must be sold within 12 days of pasteurization. According to food waste experts, the industry standard is 21 to 24 days, which means retailers in Montana are throwing away milk that could be sold and consumed in most other states.

A third of all food produced in the world is never eaten. Not only is it wasteful, but it produces a significant carbon footprint – an alarming figure 8% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world can be attributed to food waste. Tackling this problem is an integral part of responding to the climate emergency.

The conclusions of the latest Tetra Pak index indicate that consumers are increasingly aware of the harmful effects of food waste. More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents consider food waste to be an environmental concern. Despite this, half (50%) of respondents still throw away food several times a month or more.

To bridge this gap between awareness and action, we need to inform and inspire consumers about what they can do to reduce food waste. Additionally, the agri-food industry needs to look at entire food systems and work together to minimize loss and waste at every stage of the value chain.

Engage consumers

Labeling has a big role to play here. Consumers universally do not understand the expiry dates of foods and beverages, and what they mean. With different laws in different states and countries, it’s no wonder consumers are confused.

In the 2020 edition of the Tetra Pak index, 39% of global consumers said they threw away food because it had passed its expiration date, even if it didn’t smell or look bad. Meanwhile, 30% would “never” consider consuming a product past its expiration date, and more than a third would only do so for certain products.

A supermarket in the UK has gone so far as to remove best before dates from its own brand of dairy products in an effort to reduce food waste. Although this may seem drastic, it allows consumers to reduce food waste, because they are the ones who determine whether the milk is safe to use. A proactive approach to educating consumers about misconceptions can go a long way in the fight against food waste.

Packaging to reduce food waste

Food waste can also be reduced through innovative food processing and packaging solutions. Almost 70 years ago, Tetra Pak introduced the first aseptic filling machine. This process helps keep food safe, nutritious and available – with no preservatives and no refrigeration required – for months. As such, he was recognized by the Institute of Food Technologists as the most important innovation in food science of the 20th century.

We’re also seeing consumers pay a lot more attention to how their food is packaged. In particular, plastic continues to be an issue for consumers, with 42% saying they have consciously used less of it since the pandemic. according to Tetra Pak 2021 index. COVID-19 has acted as a wake-up call, fostering recognition that we all have a role to play in protecting the planet. Consumers have changed their priorities; the personal, economic and environmental fragility we have all experienced has created a shift from concern to active care.

By extending the shelf life of products with processing solutions such as pasteurization and UHT processing, combined with innovative packaging such as shelf stable packaging, food waste can be reduced.

Shelf-stable packaging also allows producers to better plan production, again reducing the amount of wasted raw materials. When it comes to distribution, shelf-stable packaging is extremely cost-effective, allowing manufacturers to reach consumers in remote locations and give them access to safe and nutritious food.

Providing the right size packaging can also help reduce food waste so consumers can choose the packaging that best suits their consumption needs. Proper sizing can help combat wasteful food consumption patterns and provide safe, nutritious and tasty foods that are resource-efficient to produce and transport.

By 2050, the United Nations predicts there will be 9.8 billion people on the planet, and this exponential growth will put pressure on our food system, because the global demand for food will increase by 50 percent, rising to nearly 70% for foods of animal origin. As such, balancing sustainability, food security and availability is essential.

While removing best before dates is a first step in the fight against food waste, solid progress can only be made if we work together across the value chain.

About Shelly Evans

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