Earlier this week, I was in a session about food waste. It was run by Love Food Hate Waste and focused on getting students at university to waste less food.
It was a voluntary session which anyone could sign up for, but of course very few people did. Of a university consisting of thousands of students only five of us turned up. That’s pretty shocking and it just shows that the majority of people just don’t give a second thought to what they waste on a daily basis.
I’d like to share some of the most important points that came out of the session. Hopefully it will inspire you to waste less in the future.
- A third of all food (1 in 4 calories) is wasted worldwide.
- 15 million tonnes of food is wasted a year – enough to fill the millennium stadium 20 times over
- The average household wastes the equivalent of £60 a month per person.
- Eliminating unnecessary food waste would result in a reduction of CO2 emissions by 17 million tonnes – the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road.
- 5.8 million potatoes are wasted every day, along with 1.4 million bananas, 1.5 million sausages and 1.1 million eggs.
There are some shocking numbers there, made worse by the fact it is largely avoidable. Luckily there were plenty of handy tips at the session so I’ve listed most of them here for you.
You can freeze almost anything
If you didn’t already know, pretty much anything can be frozen. Fruit including Bananas and pineapple are great for this. You can make a delicious banana ice cream by simply blending some frozen bananas. Similarly, vegetables like onions and butternut squash, as well as leafy greens like spinach and kale can also be frozen.
Dairy products like milk, cheese and even eggs can be frozen too. If you plan on freezing a carton of milk though, make sure you drink some first – otherwise you run the risk of it exploding (have fun cleaning that up). For the same reason, eggs shouldn’t be frozen in their shells. Cheese can be frozen too, although soft cheeses do change texture considerably.
All meat and Fish can be frozen. Ignore packet instructions that say ‘freeze on day of purchase’ – it can be safely frozen right up until the use-by date. Once you’ve defrosted it, it is possible to refreeze it as long as you cook it first.
Things you can’t freeze include some herbs like basil and parsley and some vegetables with a high water content like cucumber.
Something I wasn’t aware of prior to the session was that freezers operate at their best when they’re about three quarters full. If your freezer doesn’t seem to be working properly and you only have a single slice of bacon in there, that may be the reason. Try putting some bottles of water in there to fill it up a bit more.
Understand date labels
It should be obvious but many people still get confused. Use-by dates are included on meat and you shouldn’t eat it past this date. The food will have been tested in a lab for bacteria and a date chosen based on the results. They will always take into account the worst case scenario of bacteria growth, meaning there is usually still some time before the food genuinely becomes unsafe to eat.
Best-before dates are included on most other foods including bread, fruit and biscuits. The food is at its best before this date but is perfectly safe to eat after. I’ve just finished a packet of vegetable stock cubes that were almost 5 years past the best-before date and they tasted fine. There is one exception though and that’s eggs. They have a best-before date but you shouldn’t eat them beyond this – treat it as a use-by.
Display-until and sell-by should always be ignored. They’re for the shops benefit and are just there to confuse you.
The psychology of food
Probably one of the most interesting parts of the session were the stories of various people who were mega food wasters. Hearing them, you really start to see the psychology behind food buying and how it affects our emotions.
The first one that stood out was an instance where a young lady would buy food to fill up her fridge every week, but then never eat it. The reason she was buying so much was because she believed having a full fridge was an indicator of ‘success’ in life. Another example was an older gentleman whose wife had passed away. He continued to buy food for the both of them even though she was no longer there with him, but he couldn’t bring himself to stop buying for her too.
It all comes down to being aware of what you’re buying and binning. Make sure you keep a level head when you’re food shopping and only buy what you know you’ll eat.
There were some other bits and pieces. A lot of the food we waste is a result of portion sizes that are too big. My suggestion would be to make an estimate of the calories in each meal and work around how many you need in a typical day.
There were fridge tips as well as freezer ones. All you really need to know is that your fridge should be below 5°C and you should leave fruit and veg in the packaging to keep it fresh. Onions, potatoes, bananas, pineapple and bread should not be stored in the fridge.
I’ve written about some other general tips including meal planning and shopping in another post on Reducing Food Waste.
All of this information and more is available at Love Food Hate Waste. There are tips, recipes, meal planners and portion planners to help make it easy to waste less every day. If you have any more tips, be sure to share them in the comments below.