More than half the surplus food given to charities and voluntary groups is used in emergency cases, according to a survey of the organisations involved.
Research from Neighbourly, a social network, coincides with a review of the guidance on date labels on food that is being kicked off by the Food Standards Agency, Defra, WRAP, food charities, food retailers and organisations distributing to those in need.
The review will explore whether any improvements in food safety labelling and guidance, or better education around it, might increase the volume of surplus fresh food donated and used by the third sector.
Neighbourly surveyed 218 organisations involved in feeding more than 30,000 people every week, equivalent to 1.56 million meals a year.
Its results highlighted a lack of comprehensive national data covering the UK’s surplus food redistribution sector and its capacity to meet demand.
The primary uses of food surplus were for emergency food provision (54.6%) or regular hot meal provision (33.5%), which Neighbourly says illustrates the dependency of large numbers of people on charity and donations and support from the commercial sector.
Organisations lacked essential capabilities needed to deliver meals consistently and in times of peak need: 48% needed more storage space; 41% required transport to collect donations; 37% were without refrigeration capabilities; 33% sought better funding; and 29% needed a more regular supply of contributions.
A lack of volunteers and retention of staff were less of an issue.
Neighbourly’s role is to bring together community causes, projects and charities with individuals and businesses, such as Marks & Spencer (pictured), that contribute time, resources or funding.
Steve Haines, leader of the Neighbourly food programme, said: “Food surplus redistribution is a win-win for society. But we need to address the huge gaps in both capability and capacity.”
Dr David Moon, head of food sustainability at WRAP, said its own recent research had highlighted opportunities to increase food surplus redistribution.
“These new insights build on this work, detailing some of the barriers that redistribution organisations face. Through Courtauld 2025, we will work with organisations to seek ways to overcome barriers, including better guidance on date labelling. This will deliver an important step in reducing food waste,” he said.