New food labelling guidance that could save shoppers £1 billion a year by prolonging the lifespan of food and stopping edible items being thrown out has been published today.

Recommendations from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) charity, backed by the Food Standards Agency, include a new 'little blue fridge' icon to indicate food which should be stored in the fridge and the reintroduction of the 'snowflake' symbol for items suitable for freezing.

The changes to labelling proposed by WRAP aren't mandatory, but are being recommended as the industry standard for food manufacturers and retailers, and are likely to start being used in supermarkets from 2018.

WRAP estimates the move could help stop about 350,000 tonnes of household food being wasted a year by 2025, saving shoppers around £1 billion a year.

For more on the difference between 'use by' and 'best before' dates and how to avoid food waste, see our Free Food Saving Memo.

How will labels change?

Some rules around food labelling are strictly enforced – for example, packages have to show warning labels for certain ingredients such as sweeteners. Others aren't mandatory but are widely adopted, for example, there is no requirement to highlight gluten in ingredient lists though it's considered best practice to do so in allergy information boxes.

WRAP's proposals fall into this second category – so while you may not see them adopted on every item, they're likely to be on many from next year. The changes it's suggested, which have also been backed by Defra, include:

  • Providing clear written storage advice supported with symbols/graphics. For example, using the 'little blue fridge' icon described above.
  • Giving clearer temperature advice for chilled foods. WRAP says storing food in the fridge at the correct temperature can add an average three days to its life.
  • Using the 'snowflake' logo where products are suitable for freezing, with clear instructions to "freeze by date mark shown" or "freeze as soon as possible".
  • Putting 'use by' dates on food only where necessary for safety. This could be, for example, with meat. Otherwise 'best before' dates will be used.
  • Including only one date label on any one product. So there should be no separate 'display until' and 'use by' dates on the same item.
  • Giving people the longest possible time to consume food. This involves maximising food's 'open' and 'closed' lifespan (referring to the shelf-life before opening, and once it has been opened).
  • Applying 'use within x days' advice for food which has been opened only where absolutely necessary. However, consumers may need to know where food will deteriorate in quality once unwrapped, so they can use it before that happens.

What should go in the fridge – and what shouldn't?

WRAP says most fruit and vegetables should feature the 'little blue fridge' icon, and even suggests apples should be distributed with consumer advice, such as "Pop these apples in your fridge, so they stay deliciously crisp!"

Here's the advice WRAP gives about storing different foods to keep them fresh for as long as possible:

What SHOULD go in the fridge

  • Eggs – kept in their box.
  • Apples and oranges
  • Tomatoes – should be kept in their packaging until ready for use.

What SHOULDN'T go in the fridge

  • Potatoes – store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, in original packaging.
  • Bananas – store in a cool, dry place, and keep them in their original packaging if sold in a bag.
  • Onions – store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, and keep in their original packaging if sold in a bag.
  • Pineapples – store in a cool, dry place.
  • Bread – store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and once opened, reseal bag to keep it fresher for longer.

What does WRAP say?

Marcus Gover, CEO at WRAP, said: "A key way to help reduce household food waste is to give people as long as possible to use the food they buy. Labelling information can help with many aspects of this.

"Telling people clearly how long a product can be consumed once opened, and giving consistent and simple information about storing and freezing will help people keep their food fresher for longer, and give more options to freeze the food and use it later – rather than binning food that could have been eaten."