Women’s Institute urges supermarkets to do more to cut food waste

The Women's Institute is urging supermarkets to do more to help consumers reduce their domestic food waste, after a survey of its own membership revealed widespread confusion about "best before" and "use by" labelling on packaging.

Its new analysis of products on supermarket shelves found that “once-opened” instructions were often contradictory and often failed to make clear whether they were a guide to food safety or quality.

Only 45% of 5,000 WI members surveyed understood that best before dates were a marker of food quality, while 26% did not understand that the more important use-by dates were a crucial guide to food safety.

In its first ever report on food waste, the WI said supermarkets were “potentially contributing to food waste in the home by leading customers to buy more food than they need, and giving conflicting and confusing on-pack information that leaves customers unsure as to how long a product remains safe to eat in the home setting”.

The 42-page report is part of the WI’s ongoing campaign to reduce food waste, which follows the passing of a 2016 resolution overwhelmingly calling on all supermarkets to sign up to a voluntary agreement to avoid food waste.

To underline the point about conflicting information, it cites a can of Sainsbury’s own-brand sweetcorn advising consumers to eat it within one day of opening, while an equivalent tin from Waitrose gave consumers two days to finish it. Green Giant sweetcorn, however, has no specified date for eating once opened. The government’s waste advisory body Wrap estimates that extending the life of a product by just one day could result in 250,000 tonnes of food waste being avoided.

Marylyn Haines Evans, chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institute’s public affairs said: “WI members are some of the more informed members of society about food and cookery, so the fact that they are still confused about food labelling and ‘once-opened’ information is a damning indication that supermarkets must do more to help all consumers reduce their food waste and ultimately save money.

“We would like supermarkets to extend the amount of time that consumers have to use a product in their homes by making all of their once-opened instructions on product packaging consistent and reflective of the true full open-life of the product, and for all once-opened instructions to be completely removed on products where food safety is not an issue.”

Once known for its “jam and Jerusalem” stereotype because of its growth during the war years when members were in aprons making jam from dawn to dusk, the WI is now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK with approximately 220,000 members belonging to 6,300 regional groups.

Rebecca Smithers

This article first appeared on the Guardian

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