I came across this great article on The Huffington Post about how France plans to deal with food waste, a problem dominating Britain as well. Data suggests that the average French person throws away an average of 20 – 30kg of food each year, equivalent to 139 McDonald’s Big Macs while food past its sell-by date or that does not meet the standards of the supermarket can no longer be destroyed by pouring chemicals over it.
France is clearly making positive steps in the right direction with the donated food being given to charity or used as compost, energy or as animal feed. With the food waste costing France €12 – 20 billion each year, supermarkets must have connections with a charity to prove that they are keeping to the law and the government have set a target to reduce food waste by half by 2025. Meanwhile here in Britain, the average UK family throws away 24 meals a month, equivalent to £720 a year. It seems strange considering so many families are under financial pressure that we don’t know how to limit food waste.
Some of the blame must fall on the supermarkets and the manufacturers who bombard the consumer with misleading multibuys and confusing numbers on the packaging.
With multibuys, the golden rule is to buy it only if you need it or if you don’t need it but you can store it for a long time. These are pivotal to reducing food waste. Now there are a few loopholes but this is a general rule I stick to. And remember to check when this offer is finished; if it goes on for another 3 months, then you can leave it for a while but if it finishes on the day, you can use your own discretion. Make sure, however, that the offer should be worth it and not simply a ploy by the supermarket to sell more of that product.
And when it comes to all the numbers on the packaging, here is a succinct guide:
- Best Before is a date provided by manufacturers to tell the consumer when their product should be consumed by for the best quality; most products are safe to eat after this date but you should be aware that there could be deterioration in the flavour and texture. Use your senses to determine whether it is safe to eat – touch, sight, smell and common sense. It is estimated that if the dates on the Best Before label were extended by one day, shoppers could save £600 million a year.
- Use By is a date provided by manufacturers to tell the consumer when the product must be consumed by since consumption after this date can pose risks to your health. You’ll see this more on fresh meat, fish and pre-prepared vegetables.
- Display Until and Sell By are dates for the supermarket to manage stock and not for the consumer. You do not need to worry about these.
- Once open, consume within ‘x’ days tells the consumer how long the food remains safe to consume if stored correctly. This is touch-and-go and I hardly follow the guidelines on the packaging but instead use my senses to determine whether it is safe.
But the problem continues at home. Many admit to not knowing whether food is safe to eat and just throw it away. And the supermarkets make it even harder; products have Best Before and Use By dates on them despite the fact that they will never go off, although you may notice that the quality may deteriorate. So here are some more golden rules I follow at home:
- Preserves, pickles, honey, salt and sugar never go off
- Spices do not have a Use By date as such, however the quality deteriorates over time. You should never buy more dried herbs and spices than you need or will use so if you are experimenting with new recipes, choose ones that don’t require a spice that you won’t ever use again. The way to determine whether you need to update your spice rack is SMELL – if it doesn’t smell like it should, it is time to replace it (if you need it) and this is normally around 8 to 12 months.
- Do not store bananas in the fridge or anywhere near other fruit. Bananas produce ethylene gas which speeds up the ripening process of other fruits.
- Fruit lasts longer in the fridge and the shelf life of apples and many varieties of melon such as honeydew and cantaloupe extend significantly if kept in the fridge.
- Keep fruit away from green vegetables in the fridge to increase shelf life of your leafy greens. Carrots, cucumbers and peppers should be separate from your broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and cabbage.
- Onions have a shelf life of months; peel off the outer layers and you have a fresh onion ready to go.
- Anything with a Use By date you haven’t used can be frozen to extend its shelf life instead of throwing it in the bin. To ensure safety, you should use it once defrosted.
- Mould on HARD cheeses can be simply cut off and thrown away; mould on SOFT/MEDIUM cheeses is not safe to eat and should be discarded immediately.
Food waste is going to be a problem until we manage to educate the entire population on the subject. Education seems like the answer to everything but it really is in this case. If people weren’t thrown off by the confusing information given to us by the supermarkets, I think we could reduce a lot of food waste. But like anything else, it starts at home. You can make a change to how much food gets thrown away at home. There is still 4.2 million tonnes of food and drink going to waste that could be avoided, about 6 meals a week.
However it isn’t all bad news; food waste decreased by 21% from 2007 to 2012.
The food blogging community are also full of tips regarding food waste:
- Slice up portions of meat and fish and freeze ready for instant meals – @emily_etc @ShiniMK
- Experiment with new ideas each week to keep mealtimes interesting, which could lead to less food wastage – @connieconsumes @yimt15 @TheHungryPair
- Plan your meals for the week ahead of your shop, so you don’t buy on impulse – @ClareEPLS @KirstyRalph11 @kirstywats @jay_and_dee and more
- Shop at local markets so you don’t buy more than you need – @LuchiaUK
- “Cut off the funky bits and carry on” – @cmdafonseca
- Buy little and often – @agirlandherhome
When it comes to leftovers, well there were some great dish ideas and reinventions:
- Ultimate leftover reinvention: Arancini – @ShiniMK
- Bubble and squeak – @jay_and_dee @TheHungryPair
- Curries using up leftovers and bits of veg in the fridge – @TheHungryPair @yimt15
- Omelettes/frittatas – @kirstywats @jay_and_dee @allabouteatsblg
- Risottos – @kirstywats
- Sandwiches – @CakeBoy626
- Salads – @ClareEPLS
- Soups – @MashtunandMeow
- Stews – @MashtunandMeow
- “Today’s dinner. Tomorrow’s lunch” – @CakeBoy626
And here’s what they have to say about best before and use by dates:
- You can always eat food past its best before date but be cautious of food past its use by date – use your senses to check if it’s okay; smell, sight, touch and common sense
- Your body will know if it is rancid – @KirstyRalph11 @ShiniMK
- “If in doubt, chuck it out” – @allabouteatsblg
Education is one solution to reducing food waste and starting this education from a young age seems to be a general consensus. Many bloggers believe that celebrities need to get behind this campaign and Jamie Oliver is clearly leading the way with his Food Revolution Day. I believe that cooking and food education should be compulsory for all secondary school students under 18 and you can read why I think so here.
Share any of your food waste tips below, I’d also love to know what you think about the solution to food waste France have come up with in the article, which is linked below, and if you want to find out more information, check out the Love Food Hate Waste website, also below.