A network of 400 of the world’s largest manufacturers and retailers have issued a call to action to standardise food date labels globally by 2020 in a bid to slash food waste.

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) board of directors today (Wednesday) unanimously adopted the call to action to simplify date labels, including companies such as Tesco, Kellogg, Walmart, Campbell Soup, Bimbo, Nestlé, Carrefour and Unilever.

The group is calling for retailers and food producers to take three key steps to simplify date labels and reduce food waste by 2020:

  • Use only one label at a time
  • Select a choice of two labels: one expiration date for perishable items (eg “Use by”) and one food quality indicator for non-perishable items (eg “Best if used by”). The exact wording will be tailored to regional context
  • Educate consumers to better understand what date labels mean

Education efforts could include in-store displays, web materials and public service announcements. Many consumers don’t know, for example, that many products are still safe to eat past the “Best if used by” date, the CGF claims.

An estimated 1.3 billion tons of food worldwide is lost or wasted each year. The average UK household with children spends £700 a year on food that’s thrown away, rising to $1,500 in the US (circa £1,100). Standardising food date labels is considered a simple and effective way to reduce the amount of edible food thrown out by households, saving them money and reducing their environmental footprint.

“Now more than ever is the time for business to play a leading role in tackling food waste. This is an issue that can only truly be tackled by collaboration across the value chain. Through our global membership, the CGF is committed to playing a leadership role,” said Peter Freedman, managing director of The Consumer Goods Forum.

“We believe simplified and consistent date labelling will help us get one step closer to meeting our resolution to halve food waste by 2025 while also helping reduce confusion for consumers.”

The CGF is making the call alongside Champions 12.3, a coalition of more than three dozen leaders across government, business and civil society dedicated to accelerating progress towards achieving Target 12.3 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Champions 12.3 is chaired by Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis.