Did you know that the average family in the UK throws away £60 worth of food and drink every month? That sounds like a huge amount, but those are the official stats from the government’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign.
I recently took part in a project run by my local council to raise awareness of, and reduce, food waste. I had to keep a diary of what food I wasted for a week, and then go to an information session at the council office, then do another food diary for a week.
Love Food Hate Waste reckons that we are throwing away a quarter of the food we buy. I’m sure most people don’t waste a quarter of the food they buy from Tesco every week (having said that, I do know someone who throws away an awful lot every week) but just think about when you sort out your cupboards and find things lurking at the back that are out of date… or your child leaves half their packed lunch and it goes in the bin…. Or you cook too much pasta every single time as you can never work out how much you need (I’m certainly guilty of that!). It all adds up, and the government wants us to be more mindful of what we are buying, and cooking.
It’s not just about saving money for households, though that is a big part of it. Wasting food also means using unnecessary resources (money, energy, time etc) when it comes to producing the food (everything from heating greenhouses to running factories), transporting it to stores and so on.
My downfall is buying a specific ingredient for a recipe – eg fresh dill – and then not needing it again, but forgetting/not having time to take it out of the fridge and portion it up and put in the freezer. By the time I remember I had dill from a recipe last week it’s gone off!
The Love Food Hate Waste website has recipes to use up leftovers, a suggested 2-week meal planner using similar ingredients in different recipes across the week, a portion planner tool so you don’t cook too much and all sorts of information and tips about reducing food waste. It’s well worth a look!
Do you know the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates? Best before refers to quality –the manufacturer or seller can only guarantee the food will be at its best until that date, but it should be safe to eat after the date. Use by on the other hand does refer to safety – even if food looks or smells OK you shouldn’t eat it after this date – though I have to say I’m not that strict with myself, preferring not to waste something if it’s only a day over.
The session I attended at the council covered a lot of this, and a lot of what I heard was obvious, e.g. take a shopping list when you go to the supermarket, check the cupboards before you go. It also wasn’t hard to work out when quizzed what the main reasons were for people wasting food, or some ways to use up various leftovers (I think the lady running the session was surprised when I said you could use up leftover mashed potato in cake!).
I did pick up some useful tips in the session though, like: keep fruit (other than bananas) in the fridge, and label food when you put it in the freezer both with the name and the date – you are only supposed to store certain foods for certain amounts of time, even in the freezer.
I always thought if you bought fresh food and wanted to freeze it, you had to freeze it on the day of purchase, but apparently it’s perfectly fine to freeze right up until the use by date. So if you buy a pack of chicken breasts and think you will use them all before the use by date, but then your plans change and you have a couple left, they can still be frozen. This is a very useful tip for me!
Comparing my food diary from the first week to the second, I found I had wasted less food. I think because I was filling in the food diary I was making a conscious effort, but things like freezing leftovers quickly becomes second nature – and I often take leftovers from dinner to work for my lunch the next day!