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Five ways we can cut down on the amount of food waste at home

PUBLISHED: 14:36 19 January 2017

Consumers are throwing away £13bn worth of edible food from homes a year, figures suggest. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/Thinkstock

Consumers are throwing away £13bn worth of edible food from homes a year, figures suggest. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/Thinkstock

Being able to feed yourself is a basic human right - I'm not sure that anyone can disagree with that. So we should be ashamed as a nation that an estimated 8.4 million people - more than one in eight families - struggle to put enough food on the table.

Five ways we can cut down on food waste. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/ThinkstockFive ways we can cut down on food waste. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/Thinkstock

The proliferation of foodbanks is all the evidence you need that something has gone badly wrong.

Now, this is meant to be a column about food, not the politics of wealth distribution, so I will not try to suggest any solutions to the glaring inequality which exists in our society.

But from a purely food point of view, the fact that the UK languishes in the bottom half of European countries for food insecurity is scandalous.

So a statistic published last week is something about which we should all hang our heads in shame. In the four years to 2015, the amount of food that we as consumers sent to landfill actually increased by 4.4pc.

A staggering 7.3 tonnes of perfectly edible food ended up being buried. If you struggle to get your head around what that looks like, try thinking of it in monetary terms: we threw away £13bn worth of perfectly good food in 12 months – that’s £700 per household.

Imagine how many hungry families that could feed. The answer is all of them.

We rightly criticise supermarkets for waste, but the fact is that the retail sector managed to reduce its food waste by 3pc during the same period.

They still have a long way to go, but fair play to those making an effort. For example, Sainsbury’s has largely abandoned multibuys which encourage us to buy too much, in favour of simplified pricing.

Ultimately we cannot blame others for this scandal without first putting our own house in order. If we can eliminate just a half of the food we waste, we will go a long way to boosting the UK’s food security.

So here are five simple things we can all do to reduce the amount of perfectly good food we throw away.

1. Write a shopping list. Yes, it might be tedious planning every meal in advance, but if you rely on pulling goods off the supermarket shelf on a whim, you will end up buying excessive amounts, much of which will end up in your dustbin. You wouldn’t consider getting home from the weekly shop and immediately putting a quarter of what you have bought in the bin. So why is it acceptable to do this after it has festered in the fridge for a fortnight?

2. Don’t buy too much. This might seem obvious, but we have got used to massive plates containing gargantuan portion sizes. Often we don’t finish what is on the plate – so isn’t it better to start with less there in the first place? Not only will you save money, but you will stave off obesity for another day.

3. Don’t be a slave to expiry dates. You need to understand the difference between ‘Best Before’ dates (essentially the period in which the product will look best on the shelf) and ‘Use By’ dates (which you should take rather more notice of). The concept of ‘using your nose’ to work out whether food is edible is fundamentally flawed (you can’t smell bacteria), but you don’t need to throw away perfectly good food just because Mr Tesco’s marketing department has decided it’s no longer at peak selling condition.

4. Use leftovers. Once upon a time the Sunday roast would provide meals throughout the week. Nowadays we tend to chuck what’s left straight in the bin on Sunday and start with something completely new on Monday. Why?

5. Rediscover preserving. I know we are all time-poor, but who is really too busy to use up those leftover strawberries to make jam, or that the slightly tired contents of your vegetable draw to make a delicious chutney or soup?

One final thought: if you manage to reduce your food waste by half, you will save, on average, £350 a year. If everyone were to give that to their local foodbank, we would go a long way towards eliminating hunger as well.

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