Wholesalers are calling on manufacturers and government to work to help move ambient and frozen stock that is fit for consumption despite having passed its best before date.
The Federation of Wholesale Distributors is calling for otherwise wasted stock to be re-labelled and a campaign to raise awareness that it is safe to be consumed.
Food distributors unable to sell stock bought before the sudden closure of the hospitality sector in March have pointed to guidance issued by WRAP, based on EU food information regulations and backed by the FSA and Defra, stating that products which have been correctly stored can be consumed safely long after the best before date on the packaging.
Ambient products with long shelf lives include soft drinks, biscuits and cereals, canned meats, canned soup, confectionery, pasta sauces, dried pasta, and jams. Items have which been stored frozen in accordance with regulations will also be safe to eat for months after the best before end date.
Members of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), which supplies 350,000 catering outlets, say that their customers will not accept this stock – valued at £20m at the start of lockdown – without clear advice from Government on best before dates. They are also asking suppliers to extend best before dates and to re-label stock before selling it into the supply chain.
FWD is working with Defra on guidance to reassure the hospitality sector that products stored since March can legally and safely be sold on to the public.
FWD Chief Executive James Bielby said: "Our members who bought stock three months ago need to sell it on in order to buy more and avoid mass food waste, and it is in suppliers' interest to help them do that. The best before date is not an indication of product safety – hundreds of thousands of tonnes of perfectly good product is wasted every year as a result of this confusion, and many charitable organisations redistribute product beyond its BBE expiry.
"However, we understand that caterers will be unwilling to accept stock from their wholesaler if they perceive it to be compromised on safety or quality. Similarly, wholesalers will feel unable to accept stock from suppliers unless it has been re-labelled.
"We need a joint effort from government, suppliers and wholesalers to re-label packaging and raise awareness of the regulations around best before, in order to reduce the stockpile and enable the supply chain to flow freely again."