With Tina Leonard
If you opened your fridge and saw a few five euro notes on the shelf inside, it’s unlikely that you’ll pick them up and throw them in the bin.
But that’s exactly what we all do when we throw food away.
In fact the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between the cost of the food we throw away and the disposal costs, each household bins an average of €700 each year!
Tina Leonard has been looking at how we can stop wasting food and our hard earned cash.
Assessing your food waste
Almost one third (30%) of the food we buy is thrown away – this costs households on average €700 every year (source Environmental Protection Agency). Yet in a survey conducted for Safefood the majority of consumers underestimated how much food waste costs them, guessing it was about €300 a year.
So given the truth is more shocking than that, it may be time to start thinking about how much food you waste.
Given most people seem not to realise just how much food they waste, the first step is to find out how much you throw away.
Keep a note of what food you put in the bin for one week. Add up the total cost and then multiple it to say how much money you are potentially wasting each month or year.
In the Safefood survey, bread was the food consumers said they wasted most (43%), followed by fruit (15%), dairy products (12%), vegetables (10%) and cooked packaged meat (4%).
When asked why the majority (34%) said they had bought too much in the first place. After that 11% said they bought either food that wasn’t “very good” or that was fresh and went off quickly, 11% said they had fussy eaters in their household and a further 11% said their lifestyle/plans often change and they don’t cook/eat what they buy.
Knowing what food you waste and thinking about why will enable you to cut down on waste. Essentially it’s all about good planning, storage and good food use.
This is about planning your weekly meals, and buying accordingly. Don’t go shopping while hungry as you’re likely to buy more and only avail of the ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘two for one’ food offers if you know you can eat them or freeze to eat at a later date.
Look at the use by dates but remember that the ‘best before’ date is an indicator of quality and the food is still safe to eat after that date.
In fact in the Safefood research more consumers (69%) said they checked the ‘best before date’ compared to the ‘use by’ date (35%). Also one in three thought both labels meant the same thing. They do not. It’s the ‘use by’ date that is the important one, and one that must be present on fresh foods that are highly perishable. After this date the food could be unsafe and so shouldn’t be eaten.
But, you do not have to throw food out after the ‘best before’ date. Instead use your eyes and nose to tell you whether the food is good to eat or not.
Also, you can forget entirely about any ‘sell by’ or ‘display until’ dates on packaging. These are merely for stock control and just add to the confusion.
(As part of Safefood’s current Cut Food Waste campaign they have a Facebook App where you can enter the food name and it’s ‘use by’ date and the App will send you an email or text when the ‘use by’ date is approaching.)
This is where you can really avoid throwing out food that you’ve already bought but aren’t going to use.
Put fresh food away as soon as you get home. When you’re putting it away check ‘use by’ dates to see what you should use immediately and what you should freeze.If you’ve bought things like chicken breasts in bulk, put whatever you’re not likely to eat straight into the freezer to use later. The same goes for a big casserole you’ve made. Portion any that remains and freeze for later.If that chicken beast, for example, is still in the fridge and is now close to its ‘use by’ date and you’re not ready to eat it, cook it, cool it and put it back in the fridge. This will extend its life by a number of days.Of course you can freeze raw meat too, and the best thing to do there is check the manufacturer’s instructions on the pack about how long it can be frozen for. Your freezer will have one, two or three stars (cooler with more stars), so that will affect the length of time too. Bear in mind though that the maximum freeze time stated is a quality indicator and once properly frozen there should be no food safety issues.Freezing is the best way of preserving fresh vegetables to enjoy later. When properly frozen, vegetables retain all their flavour and nutrients. To freeze fresh vegetables, blanch them and when chilled, drain them, dry them and then transfer to a freezer bag. Later you can cook the vegetables from frozen in a large pan of boiling water. Don’t steam though, as they tend to go soggy.Some things don’t freeze well like raw or cooked eggs, or water based veg as they will go soggy but other freeze really well. For example cut your slab of butter in two and put half in the freezer if you take ages to use it, peel and grate ginger and put in a freezer bag or even chop some parsley and freeze that for later. You can even grate hard cheese and put in the freezer to sprinkle over a dish later. Bread freezes very well and you could even slice it first and take a slice out to thaw or toast as needed.
Good food use
This is really about knowing how to cook and making the most from the food you have rather than wasting it. There is a deficit of knowledge in this area but it is easily learned. For example, it’s about getting into the habit of using a whole chicken for a roast today, and sandwiches or another meal tomorrow, and then use the carcass for stock.
Leftover can make great dishes and are where you can be inventive. Use to make ‘one pot’ dishes like currys, casseroles and stews, and save your cash while you’re at it.
For further information:
www.safefood.eu - use the ‘cut food waste’ diary, and access recipes for leftovers.
Tina Leonard spoke to Pat.