How Expiration Dates Are Fueling A Rise in Food & Packaging Waste

Stand up pouches are a popular packaging type due to their convenient and versatile design. They are available to purchase in various shapes and sizes and are used for storing products that require a long shelf life, such as food items. Some have suggested that reusable packaging like stand up pouches is a possible solution to reducing food waste. But the reality is that best-before dates play a significant role in the food waste problem. This article examines the food waste problem and the impact of different packaging types on the shelf life of products.


The Issue of Best-Before Dates

Best-before dates, or expiration dates, are labelled on food products to let customers know when the product’s quality will start to deteriorate. However, some view best-before dates as the date to throw food away, even if it appears to be perfectly fine to consume. Best-before dates are about product quality, not safety. Even if a product has passed its best-before date, it’s likely that it is still safe to eat. According to FareShare, over three million tonnes of food wasted across the food industry is safe to eat at the moment it is thrown away—enough for a staggering seven billion meals! In the UK, the most commonly discarded food items are bread, potatoes, cheese, milk and apples.


This growing problem is further compounded because some consumers are unaware of how to properly store food items to extend their life. The improper storage of food can lead to a significantly decreased shelf life, meaning the product is thrown away even if it hasn’t passed its best-before date. Additionally, the rise of single-person households means that more food is being wasted in the UK. Individuals who live alone tend to over-purchase food and subsequently have to throw spoiled food items away, contributing to the food waste crisis.


The Commercial Waste Problem

Commercial food waste is also a big problem, as supermarket expiration dates contribute to the growing food waste issue. Supermarkets must throw away food that exceeds its expiry date, leading to a colossal amount of waste. A shocking report by The Grocer found that UK supermarkets throw away around 100,000 items of edible food annually. However, supermarkets are liable if a consumer gets sick after consuming a product sold after its best-before date. Consequently, to avoid legal problems, supermarkets choose to throw items away. Not only does this lead to food waste, but also this practice also wastes packaging that could be reused or recycled.


However, there is good news on this topic, as some food stores are taking steps to reduce food and packaging waste. Supermarkets such as Waitrose and Marks and Spencer are taking steps to reduce waste by removing best-before dates from the packaging of some food items, such as tomatoes, pears, apples and potatoes. Waitrose said that the move was part of its wider commitment to help consumers reduce food waste at home by 2030. Marks and Spencer have also removed best-before dates from over 300 fruit and vegetable products, covering 85 per cent of its fresh produce. Similarly, supermarket Morrisons is removing use-by-dates on 90 per cent of its own-brand milk, and the Co-op is removing use-by-dates on its own-brand yoghurts to help combat the staggering amount of waste attributed to throwing away yoghurts that are still safe to eat. £100 million worth of yoghurt is thrown away each year in the UK when it is still consumable, and the Co-op is hoping that removing use-by dates will reduce the amount of unnecessary waste.


The Impact of Packaging on Shelf Life

The type of packaging used for a product can significantly impact its shelf life. For example, stand up pouches are commonly used for packaging products that have a long shelf life. Stand up pouches are made from several layers of material that protect the product from oxygen, moisture and contaminants, significantly extending the shelf life of products. This packaging type is particularly effective at extending the shelf life of food and drink products such as coffee, snacks, confectionery and pet food, which require a long shelf life. But that’s not all—stand up pouches also help to reduce food and packaging waste because they are resealable, allowing people to keep food fresher for longer and get more use out of the packaging.


Other types of packaging, such as cardboard boxes or plastic bags, don’t offer the same level of protection as resealable stand up pouches. For example, plastic bags are not airtight, leading to a rapid decline in food quality. Similarly, cardboard boxes are easily damaged, allow air and moisture to penetrate through the packaging, and as a result, significantly reduce the shelf life of products.


In Summary

Best-before dates play a significant role in the growing food waste issue that desperately needs to be addressed. The widespread misunderstanding of best-before dates and substandard food storage have all contributed to the food waste crisis. The commercial waste problem is also a heavy contributor to food and packaging waste, as supermarkets throw away food that is safe to eat when it passes its expiry date to avoid potential legal problems, resulting in millions of tonnes of waste. However, there is a silver lining, as supermarkets such as Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons and the Co-op are removing use-by dates on some of their products to reduce unnecessary household waste.


Stand up pouches are an effective solution as they protect products from external contaminants, maintain product freshness and are usually made from recyclable materials. But that’s not all—they also help to reduce food and packaging waste because they are resealable, allowing people to keep food fresher for much longer and get more use out of the packaging. By taking steps to educate customers on responsible food consumption habits and choosing the right packaging, we can all work together to reduce the amount of food and packaging waste we generate, which supports a more sustainable future.