Tonnes of sandwiches and other chilled food that would have gone to waste may now be made available for charity use under new ‘use-by’ date guidance.

The British Sandwich & Food to Go Association (BSA) has worked with the Food Standards Agency and Department of Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to question the interpretation of the law around use-by dates.

Until now, food that had reached its use-by date would have to be sent back to the manufacturer for microbial shelf-life testing before the date label could be extended by 24 hours and the food given for charity use.

Sending food back to the manufacturer was impractical and time-consuming, and food was instead destroyed at midnight on the use-by date, said the BSA.

Under the new guidance, retailers will be allowed to conduct microbial shelf-life testing in store and relabel short shelf-life chilled foods for charity use.

The guidelines are produced under the BSA’s primary authority agreement with Slough Borough Council, which sets new rules nationally.

Research with retailers had shown this change in interpretation will potentially save 2,000 tonnes of products going to waste each year, said the BSA.

“Analysis of wastage across five major retailers produced a potential reduction of 1,924 tonnes,” said BSA director Jim Winship. “However, retailers and the charities they support will now need to establish the practical means to deliver surplus foods to those who need them.”

Preventing food surplus and waste should come first, but where surplus does occur redistribution should be the priority, said Dr David Moon, head of food and drink at waste reduction charity WRAP.

“WRAP’s research shows that there is significant potential to increase the amount of surplus food that’s made available for redistribution. This work by the BSA, FSA and Defra is an excellent example of how collaboration can remove barriers and make this happen,” he added.