Why do I think this is important? Why am I writing about this? Well for starters, limiting your food waste helps you to save money and also helpful to the environment. The average family household could save over £700 per year (WRAP, 2018) if they minimised their food waste!
It has been reported that the UK generates ~10 million tonnes of food waste per year (or ~£17 billion (WRAP, 2017)), ~60% of which could be avoided (The Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee, 2017).
This food waste rots down to produce harmful greenhouse gases including methane (WRAP, 2018).
It has been in the news a lot lately, about reducing food waste and food poverty. The Trussell Trust is a poverty charity that has provided over 1.3 million 3 day emergency food supplies between April 2017-March 2018. However, this does not represent the full scale of the issue, as there are hundreds of other independent foodbanks in the UK.
The Trussell Trust states that they make up approximately two thirds of all emergency food aid provision. It is such a shame that we waste so much food when there are so many people in the UK struggling for something to eat.
So it is in everyone’s interest to avoid wasting food!
But why do we waste food?
Excluding food manufacturers and retailers, we waste food for a few reasons, such as not using food in time and our ignorance around understanding food labels. According to WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme – a registered charity), ~700,000 tonnes of food is wasted due to misunderstanding food labels.
We also waste food due to cooking too much at meal times, incorrect food storage and buying more than we can eat. Christmas time is a classic case – we buy loads of food, taking advantage of the buy one get one free deals, and we also probably overestimate how much we will actually eat.
A lot of people don’t bother keeping any leftovers and just throw it away, maybe due to concerns of food safety, disliking leftovers or not even knowing what to do with them.
The Love Food Hate Waste website (https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com) has some great ideas for using up leftovers, such as Colcannon to use up leftover vegetables or Egg Noodle & Chicken Broth to use up cooked chicken, but you can always use their recipes or any other recipe, and swap to use what you do have.
The recipe may state chicken but you have leftover roast beef, or it states to use pumpkin but you only have sweet potatoes. Just experiment!
Some people say they don’t like leftovers, so just throw it away, but if you experiment and try new recipes, making the foods into new dishes, you may actually find you like them! Some say they dislike reheated Shepherd’s pie, but you could make it into meaty bubble & squeak patties – mix in some cooked and chopped vegetables, mould into patties and cook until thoroughly hot all the way through. Others say leftover foods taste better, such as chillis and curries, as the flavours meld together.
Food safety is an issue and many people are unsure if you can/cannot reheat foods.
I’ve noticed some supermarket labels now state not to reheat the food item, but this is the supermarket being overly cautious. And this type of label information could prompt people to throw food away unnecessarily.
If in doubt, you could contact the customer services or check out the following links for some information on food safety: Food Standards Agency (FSA): https://www.food.gov.uk/food-safety or NHS Choices: https://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/Homehygiene/Pages/Homehygienehub.aspx
As a basic guide:
- Decant the hot food into a clean (and appropriate sized) container
- Cool foods to be kept to less than 5’C within 90 minutes
- Portioning up the food, separating it into several smaller containers, slicing large roast meats, etc., will help to speed up the cooling process
- Never put hot foods into the fridge (or freezer) to cool quicker (- this will heat up the fridge and its contents, and compromise food safety)
- Only reheat foods once
- Reheat food until piping hot all the way through (- if you have a food temperature probe, ensure the thickest part of the food reaches at least 75’C)
- Always label leftover foods (to avoid confusion later on!) with what it is, the date made and when to use it by
To help cool foods more quickly, you could put a clean plate in the fridge to get it nice and cold and then transfer the hot food onto it, and if appropriate, spread it out over the plate, or portion the hot food into smaller pieces, as these will cool quicker.
Multi-Buys and Pre-Packaged Items
It is easy to be tempted to buy multi-packs of foods, as these can be the cheaper option, but if you don’t use up the food in time, then this is actually more expensive! This is where we need to be savvy.
If we do end up buying for example, a bag of peppers because they were cheaper, (when we really only needed one), we can do one of the following options: use the one we need and let the others sit in the fridge until they look soggy and mouldy, then throw them in the bin; or, find and use recipes and ideas to use up the remaining peppers.
The remaining peppers could be used for recipes such as stuffed peppers – you don’t have to follow a recipe, although it is quite nice to browse over recipes to get ideas, but you could just be inventive. You could experiment and stuff them with anything you like.
Or you could slice/chop them up and roast them off to then use cold (-storing in the fridge for up to 2 days), or reheated in salads, or add to soups, stews, casseroles, frittatas, stir fries, add to other meat or veg dishes, or make pickles and chutneys, or place in the freezer for a later date.
Or you could par-cook the fresh peppers (- ideally steam, to try to maintain as many of the nutrients as possible, as when foods are boiled, there are more nutrient losses by leaching into the water), and then place into the freezer for storage and take out what you need as and when.
Tips to Reduce Food Waste
- Get clued up on food labels
- Know what “use by” and “best before” mean, so you don’t throw food away unnecessarily
- Plan your weekly meals
- This is helpful because you’ll know exactly what you’re going to be eating each day, which will save time and stress on the day trying to decide. When you write your meal plan and shopping list, you can check what you already have in stock (so you don’t end up buying more when it’s not needed which could then end up getting wasted), and check when things go out of date and prioritise using things up
- Get portion savvy
- Know how much is a portion and therefore how many portions to cook to avoid wasting food, or over-eating for the sake of avoiding wastage. You can purposely cook a double batch which could then be chilled, refrigerated and then used within 2 days, or frozen for use for a later date (-making sure you label foods for the fridge and freezer)
- Use up leftovers
- This will save food waste, save time later on, and save money. Get inventive, look up recipes and ideas, use them for your lunch the following day
- Regularly check date labels on foods
- This is a bit of a bind, but will help in the long run, when saving wasting food and buying unnecessary items. You could do this each week when you are writing your meal plan and shopping list to kill two birds with one stone. Like in a professional kitchen, you could rotate stock – first in first out, putting the older items at the front so easier to use up, rather than rummaging around trying to find the older dated item
- Buy what you need
- Write your weekly shopping list based on your meal plan for the week and what you have in stock, but you could also consider if each food item you are going to buy will last until it is needed, for example, you need some beetroot, but won’t use it until the end of the week, so you could buy it nearer the time or buy vacuum packed instead, or buy the fresh beetroot as planned but par-cook it and then freeze until needed
- Ensure your fridge and freezer are at the correct temperatures and not overcrowded – if not, food may go off quicker
References and further reading
House of Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmenvfru/429/429.pdf
WRAP charity: http://www.wrap.org.uk/?_ga=2.71850643.149340126.1525717198-1045890550.1525717198
Love Food Hate Waste: https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com
The Trussell Trust: https://www.trusselltrust.org
Food Aid Network: http://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/mapping