The WRAP study said that despite chicken being a favourite meat, 86 million are wasted per year.
It found the amount of food thrown away by UK households that could have been eaten fell by 1.1 million tonnes, a reduction of 21%, saving consumers almost £13bn over the five years to 2012.
Just under half of avoidable food and drink waste (worth £5.6bn) was classified as ‘not used in time’, meaning it was thrown away because it had gone off or passed the date on the packaging.
“There are great opportunities for the meat and fish sectors as the report shows that there hasn’t been a reduction in meat and fish over the last five years, to help people get more out of the meat and fish they buy through providing clearer freezing and defrosting guidance, and the availability of smaller pack sizes or fresh for freezing portion packs,” according to the report.
Alan Davey, director of innovation at Linpac, which produces packaging for meat and fish among other products, told us there are three packaging types suitable for the sector: overwrapped trays, MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) and VSP (Vacuum Skin Packing).
“Active packaging has become a significant area of development in recent years as a method of extending the shelf life of meat and creating a safer consumer product.”
He said antimicrobial varnishes can be applied to films and trays after manufacture or labels or pads containing the additives can be included within food packages.
“Although the links in the supply chain - food producers, processors and manufacturers - are now very much aware of the food waste problem, it is still a relatively new issue for many consumers who have often discarded unwanted food without a second thought.
“Packaging manufacturers also have an important role to play and must rise to the challenge of helping consumers minimise waste by designing innovative packaging solutions which suit their lifestyle and which maximise the shelf life of stored products in their homes.”
Bakery, drink, fresh fruit, home-made and pre-prepared meals, and dairy and eggs all had more than 100,000 tonnes reductions of avoidable food waste in the five years.
Davey said the distances a product may have to travel between processor, retailer and consumer presented a challenge for the industry.
“Damage to goods, food spoilage and waste, and the related cost implications, is a constant cause for concern for both manufacturers and supermarkets.
“Food packaging companies have to address these issues by developing packaging which is lighter, more sustainable and recyclable, yet which is still fit for purpose in terms of protecting, preserving and presenting meat and fish to a high standard.”
INCPEN: Changing times
INCPEN welcomed the update by WRAP of food waste statistics, saying it reflected changes in household behaviour and ongoing efforts by the food supply industry.
Jane Bickerstaffe, director of INCPEN, highlighted a number of options that food packagers can do to ensure products have the best chance of not being wasted.
“Protect them in the supply chain, provide a wide range of portion sizes, use smart technology such as ethylene absorbers, skin packs for meat, modified atmosphere packs, re-sealable packs for products like cheese and slide meats, add instructions for preparation and advice on how to store.
“In environmental terms, meat and fish need the maximum amount of protection to prevent them going to waste because more resources are invested in rearing, fishing and preparing them than any other food type.”
The top wasted food and drinks in UK homes includes bread, milk, fresh potatoes, pork/ham/bacon and cakes and pastries.
FDF: Still work to do
Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said packaging design, information about product storage and use and consumer awareness campaigns such as Fresher for Longer (which INCPEN are also involved in) can help consumers thrown away less food.
Andrew Kuyk, FDF’s sustainability director, said throwing away uneaten food is an avoidable and expensive form of waste, for the environment and for consumers themselves.
“As manufacturers, we want our products to be used and enjoyed. We are working hard with retailers and other supply chain partners to do what we can – substantial progress is being made, but we all have a lot more to do.”