August Debate: So how we can reduce the amount of food we waste?

What a waste!A recent report estimates that the average Gloucestershire household throws away £420 worth of food every year, and local studies show that food makes up as much as 30% of waste going to landfill. Across the UK householders waste approximately 6.7 million tonnes of food each year.

The report was published by WRAP (Waste & Resource Action Plan), a not-for-profit company backed by government funding which aims to help individuals, businesses and local authorities to reduce waste and recycle more.

What can we all do to still eat wholesome food and reduce the amount we throw away – something which is particularly important when times are hard.

Rob Rees – The Cotswold Chef ™ has been looking back in history, and to the future, to create some guidance. He’s been looking at the cookery books of the past from the 1940s and the trends in history when budgets where tight, communities close and transport lean. Not only that but for many new housewives at the time cooking skills were desperate.

The advice is quite simple. It is time to go back to basics. The tips of our grandmothers and great grandmothers can really make a difference… what quality to look for when choosing meat, how much to budget for as a portion, freezing our leftovers, only purchasing seasonal where possible. Recycling foods safely by cooking dishes like rissoles, shepherds pie and fish cakes and buying our non-perishables in bulk will certainly make a difference. The popular return of the pressure cooker will also help reduce our energy costs, preserve nutrients and still allow us time to cook with our hectic lifestyles. Combine the opportunity to eat healthy foods with our new found need to walk or cycle and shop locally to avoid high fuel costs and we could end up tackling the obesity crisis as well as getting a great food culture back as a consequence of the crunch.

Our biggest challenge will still remain the lack of cooking skills.

It’s time for all of us who can cook to adopt a friend, family member or neighbour who can’t and swap ideas and recipes and inspire each other. In addition so many of us are growing herbs, fruits and vegetables – it’s time to start swapping them and managing how we grow things better in our gardens, boxes and plots so that we have a wider variety that can sustain a balanced diet.

Ideas on how to buy and shop:

  • Start to plan your meals and keep a diary list of them.
  • Incorporate into your home menus dishes that you know will create enough leftovers for a further meal to support all your household on another day
  • Create a shopping list and costing sheet for each of these menus.
  • Allow yourself though to be inspired by the new seasons and try shopping somewhere new to see a wider variety of fresh items perhaps.
  • Bulk-buy non-perishables – such as grains, pulses, pastas, tinned and jarred foods. This will be cheaper and are always useful to have in the store cupboard to bulk out dishes.
  • Remember that a good portion of breads, rice and pasta dishes will fill your children up and so they are far less likely to need to graze on the sweets, biscuits and chocolates that can be expensive and less healthy.
  • Portion control is really important. By aiming for the recommended portion in terms of a healthy diet you can also end up being really thrifty. We have all been spoilt by piling our plates high. A portion of fish is 140g. A portion of fruit/vegetables is 80g. A portion of meat 100g.
  • To control your waste consider shopping at places where you can pick and choose exactly the amount of food you want, e.g. farm shops, markets, greengrocer, butchers, bakers and deli counters of supermarkets and other independent stalls.
  • Understand that as you cook food it shrinks or there is natural wastage such as peelings or cores. Try and estimate the correct sized ordering of meat or fish to match the required final portion. Add into the equation the consideration of do you buy aiming for enough leftovers to create a further family meal or just a few odd bits.
  • A roasted joint on a bone will loose approximately 35% of its uncooked weight during cooking
  • A piece of fish on the bone and skin will loose approximately 25% of its uncooked weight when boning and skinning.
  • Be wary of 2 for 1 deals & buy 1 get 1 free (BOGOFs as they can be known as). Check the deals are in fact a deal! Check the use-by dates on products, as often ‘deals’ can be a way for retailers trying to get rid of items! Also ask your self do you really need the extra item, are you going to use them?
  • Buy whole fruits & vegetables. Often pre-packed, prepared produce has a shorter shelf life. Store them in a fridge (apart from bananas). Left over fruits that are going soft can be blended in smoothies or used in fruit crumbles and fruit cobblers whilst vegetables can make quick salsas.
  • Look out for the, often cheaper, cuts of meat that require perhaps a slower cooking method. These can often be enhanced with tinned, frozen or fresh vegetables and fruits.

For more of Rob’s top tips click on the link at the top of the page, and see Rob’s recipes for some basic money saving ideas. Why not send in your favourite thrifty recipe?

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9 Responses

  1. Greater attention should be given by food enforcement authorities to the misuse of ‘use by’ durability markings on pre packed food. As it is an offence to sell after the ‘use by’, stores have no choice but to fill their waste skips with perfectly edible and safe to eat food. Consumers are also misled into believing that they may come to harm if they eat anything after the ‘use by”. The advantage to the manufacturer for applying a ‘use by’ instead of a ‘best before’ is that they have quick turnover of short shelf life ‘use by’ foods.

  2. if that is the case about not being ill from use by – then someone should truly tell us what are the high risk items that may give us food posoining – who do we believe? or do we go with the old test of mold and smells – I dont think so – we all no that its the bugs you cant see that cause the problem – anyadvice from our county EHO or FSA?

  3. “Mel Drew and Mr Veg make a very good point. No one wants to waste food unnecessarily and use-by dates probably do contribute to food waste but they also serve an important purpose. If there were no date mark on perishable foods then all we could rely on would be our senses. Unfortunately food poisoning bacteria do not necessarily cause foods to spoil. Food that looks, smells and tastes perfectly OK could be teeming with salmonella.

    When we buy ready-to-eat foods from the shop we place our trust in the manufacturer and retailer to process, package and distribute the food in a condition that is safe to eat. There is nothing we can do to the food that will make it safer. Most manufacturers recognise that responsibility and do a lot of research to determine the shelf-life of their product. Getting it wrong could be very damaging for them. I haven’t seen anything to suggest that manufacturers give products short shelf-lives in order to increase the volume of their sales. If anything the reverse is true; retailers want long shelf-lives to help them keep their costs down. I think most consumers would be appalled to learn just how old some prepared foods are at the point of sale. I personally would like to see manufacturers compelled to put the date of production on their packaging so customers can see for themselves.

    Food that is thoroughly cooked before it is eaten will be safer to eat after the use by date. Raw meat which is stewed or casseroled for an hour or more is likely to be safe to eat afterwards even it was going “off” (I think I’ll stick to the fresh stuff myself) but ready meals that are given a quick “blast” in the microwave may not be safe. Some bacteria produce toxins in the food that are not destroyed by such a short heat treatment.

    So is it safe to eat food that has gone past its use by date? It’s true that food doesn’t suddenly become dangerous at the stroke of midnight on the use by date but it has reached the point where the manufacturer can no longer guarantee that it will be safe to eat. It might be OK to eat the next day but then again it might not. Are you feeling lucky?”

    Environmental Health Officer
    Gloucestershire Food Safety Group

  4. Conservative durability dates are just one reason why people waste food. Other reasons, include a hectic lifestyle where people simply don’t have the time to stop and plan the management of their food. I think it’s unfair to load the blame onto wasteful consumers when supermarkets entice us to buy so much unneeded food with multi-buy offers and huge savings on family packs where we are enticed to buy a greater quantity than we need because the price per kg is so much lower. I’m guilty of buying the big tins of beans because there is virtually no difference in price and I usually end up using only use half the content. I completely agree with the previous comment that supermarkets waste huge amounts of food that is still fit for consumption because it is not worth their while, financially, to find a less wasteful means of disposal. There is also the question of EC food mountains where huge amounts of good food is allowed to spoil for purely political reasons. If we are looking at food waste, we should start with the food industry.

  5. First of all we must all get used to eating less. Then we will have a better idea of what our families consume, allowing us to make better shopping decisions. This will allow us to spend less as we learn to budget in a better and much more effective manner. Especially in this current economic climate about, and credit crunch and so on. Living on a strict budget has never been more important.

  6. A budding gardener after recently inheriting a superb veg patch courtesy of my late Granddad, I am pleased others are as concerned with food waste as I am. Personally taking a great interest in the environment, our local community and recycling I was horrified to find out I could be wasting up to £400 per year on food waste. Securing a contract position at Stroud District Council on a new Food Waste Trial 10 months ago highlighted my concerns even more looking at the “big picture”.

    This made me look at my family’s habits and just how wasteful modern society is. My parents have always encouraged us to be responsible with all waste; home composting for as long as I can remember, using local recycling services, Household Waste Recycling Centres, donating everything possible to charities and of course the great car boot sale! After taking a closer look into my personal habits I have made some dramatic changes in recent months. Including shopping locally at the weekly farmers market, use of reusable bags and making a conscious effort to eat more than 5 portions of fruit and veg per day using local, seasonal produce where possible. They are basic steps and I am finally receiving the fruit of my labour. Able to go to my garden rather than the shops and pick fresh potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbages, leeks, broccoli, runner beans, broad beans, tomatoes, peppers, chili’s and a variety of herbs is a great personal achievement considering I have never had a garden before. A lot of people today simply don’t have the time or can’t be bothered with the amount of work that is required, to be honest until recently neither did I and boy you have to be committed.

    I understand that buying local is generally more expensive than going to your local supermarket or even supermarket metros that are taking over our local/village shops. But what I have found is that you need to buy less good local food than you do the water, preservative and artificial colouring stuffed food that is apparently fresh yet it’s been shipped half way across the world??? It is about personal choice, at the end of the day a car won’t run properly for long with dirty petrol – now there’s another debate!

  7. I agree with Lisa that the £420 per year per household figure WRAP came up with for household food waste is staggering. When you look at some of the other stats in their report it really puts it in to perspective e.g. Each day in the UK we throw away:-
    · 5.1 million whole potatoes
    · 4.4 million whole apples
    · 2.8 million whole tomatoes
    · 7 million whole slices of bread
    · 1.3 million unopened yoghurts and yoghurt drinks.

    Here in the County Council’s Waste Department we are really focussed on minimising food waste. WRAP tell us that UK local councils spend £1 billion collecting our food waste and sending most of it to landfill. I’m sure as council tax payers we could all nominate better ways of spending this money. On top of that, with the ‘credit crunch’ biting we could all find better ways of spending the £420!

    We need to divert food waste from landfill, with landfill tax at £32 per tonne currently, and the threat of £150 per tonne fines for exceeding Gloucestershire’s allowance for landfilling ‘rottable’ waste, the costs to the County Council will spiral upwards if not.

    On top of this the food waste releases methane when it rots in landfill and this is a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2, as well as the food waste producing harmful leachates as it breaks down. It is easy to think that rottable food waste is not a problem as it is biodegradable. In actual fact it is biodegradable waste that is a priority for landfill diversion and the government work on a figure of 68% of household waste falling into this category.

    As well as looking at what we buy and mimimising our food waste we can look at alternatives for dealing with our food waste rather than just throwing it in our bins. Home composting is a great way to deal with uncooked food e.g. vegetable peelings, tea bags, rotten fruit and veg etc. And if you are in an area of Gloucestershire where seperate food waste collections are offered (e.g. Cotswold District, and the Stanleys area of Stroud District) you can use these collection services for all your food waste.

    Waste Management Department
    Gloucestershire County Council

  8. Great post with lots of excellent ideas. This is a subject that is close to my heart.

    I’ve written some ideas too, some of which are already mentioned in this post, but there are some different ones. You can view on our site

  9. The Food Standards Agency tell us that about a third of the food we buy ends up being thrown away and most of this could have been eaten. This is an incredible amount and it is obvious that we all need to be thinking more carefully before throwing away food that is past specifically its ‘best before’ date.

    From a Trading Standards perspective, we have found over the years that some people get confused about the difference between a ‘use by’ date and a ‘best before’ date, so we thought we would use this opportunity to clarify the situation.

    Nearly all prepacked food must, by law, be marked with a ‘use by’ or a ‘best before’ date. It is really quite important to know the difference between these two dates to ensure the food we eat is safe whilst not throwing away food unnecessarily.

    So, a ‘use by’ date is applied to food which is, from a microbiological point of view, highly perishable and therefore likely after a relatively short period to constitute a possible danger to human health, e.g. fresh meat, fish, poultry, cooked meat, pate, dairy products, ready made meals, salads and soft cheeses. It is an offence for a shop to sell food past its ‘use by’ date.

    A ‘best before’ date is applied to foods intended to have a shelf life of three months or less, e.g. bread, hard cheeses. A best before date refers to quality rather than food safety. Foods with a best before date should be safe to eat after the ‘best before’ date, but they may no longer be at their best. With this in mind though, you shouldn’t eat eggs after the ‘best before’ date. This is because eggs can contain salmonella bacteria, which could start to multiply after this date.

    Thanks to all those that have contributed to the debate this month!

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