Reducing food waste in the household:
Simple tips that generate win-wins for people and the planet
Food waste refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food as a result of decisions and actions made by retailers, food service providers and consumers (FAO, 2019).
Addressing food waste is critical to enhancing food system sustainability by generating economic, social and environmental benefits.
When food is wasted, the resources that go into producing and making food available to consumers are also wasted. These resources include money, energy, land and water as well as labour and time. Wasted food represents a waste of kilocalories and micronutrients that never make it to the consumer. By reducing food waste in the household we also contribute to reducing the amounts of food waste that go to landfills, where the food decays and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions that impact climate change.
Consumers today are seeking ways to reduce their costs, as food prices rise across the globe. Minimizing food waste in households is a relatively simple way of cutting household food expenditure.
Each one of us, as a consumer, can contribute to reducing food waste. Our collective actions in doing so can make a difference.Here are a few tips that you can use to reduce food waste!
Quite often, we purchase more food than we intend to eat, which ultimately leads to food waste. In order to avoid buying more than you need it is important to shop smart by planning ahead. It is useful to make a shopping list of the foods you already have at home to prevent buying unnecessary duplicates, have a food plan, and eat before going shopping!
Use of a shopping list will help you stick to only what you need to buy and help prevent being tempted by the various marketing strategies employed by retailers, such as buy one get one free.A good food or meal plan may also have the added benefit of saving time when deciding what to eat.
Cook smarter by preparing the quantities of food you need and intend to eat, whether cooking for yourself or for a group of people. Any food that is not eaten must be stored appropriately for consumption at a later time.
Many shops and farmers’ markets offer irregularly shaped or discoloured fruit and vegetables, which are just as good to eat and nutritious as perfectly shaped and coloured ones. Buy and consume “ugly” fruits and vegetables, rather than throwing them away! Use them in preparing purees, soups, stews and homemade fruit preserves and smoothies.
It is important to ensure your fridge works properly to guarantee that the shelf-life of food stored in it is maximized. A fridge that is set too cold, too warm, or does not function as it should, can accelerate the rate of spoilage thereby increasing the amount of food wasted and creating potential food safety concerns.
After food shopping, newly purchased foods that have a longer shelf-life should be stored at the back of the cupboard, fridge or freezer. Older products (first in) that will expire sooner should be moved toward the front to ensure they are used next (first out). Remember! First in, first out or FIFO!
How food is stored plays a critical role in ensuring it maintains quality and to minimize food waste. Different food types have their own stringent storage requirements.
Dry foods such as rice are best stored in airtight containers at room temperature. Bread is best stored in a sealed package in a cupboard; onions and potatoes in a mesh sack, in a cool dark place. Perishable foods such as meats are best stored either in the chill or freezer compartments of the fridge and dairy items including milk and yoghurt, in the chill compartment of the fridge.
Fresh vegetables should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the chill compartment of the fridge. Milk and sauces should be stored in the racks on the fridge door, and raw meats at the bottom of the main compartment dedicated for that purpose.
Packages of previously opened products must be fully closed and sealed, to help keep them fresh and safe to eat over longer periods.
Care should be taken not to over pack the fridge as this can drastically impact its functioning and performance.
Other categories of foods such as frozen fruits and vegetables and ice cream, must be properly packaged and can be stored in the freezer for a longer term. If freezing food, write the date it was placed in the freezer on the outside of the container or package. Here too, FIFO is important.In short, make sure you are aware of how and where each of the foods should be stored to prevent waste.
“Best before” and “use by” date labels found on food are very different from each other. Many people are not fully aware of the differences. Food, if well packaged and properly stored, is safe to eat even after the “best before” date, as this date simply refers to the quality of the food and when it is in optimal condition (e.g. taste and texture).
On the other hand, the term “use by” informs you of when a food is no longer safe to eat and may in fact cause an immediate danger to human health if consumed. Some retailers may also include a “display date” on their products, which shows how long a food product can be displayed in retail. The “display date” does not, however, refer to actual consumption.
When dining out at a restaurant, when eating at your work or school cafeteria, or attending an event that is serving food, even if just a dinner among friends, ask for smaller portions if you think you will not be able to eat everything that is being served.Similarly, if you are eating at a buffet or self-service event, serve yourself with smaller portions, as there is always the option to add more food when you have finished rather than start with a larger portion and not finish it.
Whether you are eating at home or dining out, if you don’t eat everything on your plate, you can save your leftovers for later. At home, leftovers can be stored appropriately and can be safely eaten at a later date or even used as ingredients in the preparation of another meal. Recipes for delicious innovative meals using surplus food and leftovers can be found easily online, or using apps.
When dining out, many restaurants are happy to provide a “doggy bag” and containers to take away leftover foods that can be reheated and enjoyed the next day. However, it is important to promptly store the food safely – in the refrigerator – to ensure it is still good to eat the next day.
There are several creative options you can use to give food items that you may have usually wasted, a new lease of life. Fruits and vegetables that have started to lose their appealing appearance and freshness are still perfect ingredients for nutritious soups, smoothies and jams. A simple blender can create tasty smoothies that still provide you with all of the nutrients in the fruits and vegetables, while preventing food waste.
Recipes and inspirational ideas for preparing soups and smoothies can be found online.
Several mobile applications are now available to connect people wishing to share food locally with others. Surplus food or unwanted food ingredients can be shared with neighbours to ensure that it is not wasted. The same can be said the other way around, where you can connect with neighbours offering their food and acquire some for yourself. This also brings the added benefit of saving money!
Other apps connect consumers with food businesses seeking to sell their food items, which would otherwise be wasted, at a significantly reduced price. In this regard, the business avoids wasting food and still makes a small profit while the consumer receives food at a discount, thereby saving money.
Food charities and redistribution centres such as food banks are facing extremely high demand for their services and as a result are always seeking food donations. Any of your surplus food that is still safe for consumption can be donated to local food banks in your area. Most food banks can be found online with many offering clear guidance on what food items are accepted and most needed, as well as instructions on how to donate.
Donating surplus food, to food charities, will not only help reduce your own food waste, but will provide much needed food to those in need and who are food insecure.
Various smart storage products are available on the market that can help you keep track of the shelf-life of food. One such example is a smart tagging platform that allows you to simply attach a tag to a food item as it is transferred to the cupboard or the fridge for storage. The tag will keep track of the type of food stored and when it was put in storage to let you know how long it has been there, for how much longer it will be good to eat, and will also offer recipes based on the foods you have available to help ensure that it is used.
Another similar example is “smart Tupperware” which has a QR code on its lid, which is used to record information, such as expiry dates, of the food contained in it. The QR code can be periodically scanned to provide information on shelf-life of the food. It is an ideal option for those who prepare meals in advance and can help keep track of what meals are stored and for how long.
Countless databases of sustainable recipes can be found online, that promote the use of all ingredients at hand to minimize food waste generation. Additionally, there are websites that allow for the insertion of ingredients available in your kitchen, and which will generate a recipe that makes use of them. So instead of discarding leftovers or spare ingredients, check online for new tasty recipes to try.
Any surplus food that cannot be reused safely, or any inedible food scraps such as small bones and eggshells can be composted. Rather than discarding the waste in a bin, it can be composted and important nutrients will be recycled back into the soil, benefiting soil health and plant growth.
Guidance on household composting can be found online where it ranges from digging a small hole in your garden to making use of odourless electrical compost appliances.
Composting food scraps also alleviates the burden of food waste on landfill sites, which is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases, notably methane, which has a more potent warming potential than carbon dioxide.
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