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4 Ways To Prevent Food Waste

42% of food wastage in Europe occurs in households, with homes in the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands wasting the most.

This means the everyday consumer has the power to make a big difference. So, what changes can we make to help prevent food waste? Let’s go shopping to find out. 

Do you know what food you waste? 

It can be hard to keep track, and perhaps technology might help. UK technology start-up Winnow Vision has made a ‘smart bin’ that uses a camera and scales to track what types of food are being thrown away. It’s not yet a common feature in the average household, but commercial kitchens are latching onto the devices. IKEA has installed them in all its UK and Ireland stores.2 

Do you have to go to the supermarket? 

Enterprising apps and schemes are connecting people with food to spare with people who want it. Apps like Karma and Too Good To Go pair consumers in Europe with unsold food and meals in restaurants. Apps like Foodcloud help charities and communities to source surplus food in the UK and Ireland. Got a few unwanted tins in your cupboard? You can offer them directly to others using the app Olio, with users worldwide. 

‘Best before’ and 'Sell by’: what do they mean?

You open the fridge and pull out your favourite snack, unopened. You see the ‘Best Before’ date was yesterday. Can you still eat it? 

The ‘Best Before’ stamp on a food item signals the last date when best quality is assured. But some expert authorities are encouraging consumers to use their senses – including their common sense. If it smells okay and looks okay, it is probably fine to eat. One man in the US even blogged a year of eating out-of-date food (he survived).3 

There are also apps like Approved Food where you can buy food that is near or past the ‘Best Before’ date. 

Consumers often misunderstand ‘Sell-by’ dates, which are supposed to guide retailers. Typically, there is still one-third of a product’s shelf-life left after the sell-by date. One study found people were 28% more likely to discard milk that had any ‘Sell-by’ date label.4 

Perhaps we will all see clearer labels soon. Some Swiss food companies are now adding a new line to their product packaging - ‘Often good for longer’. This could reduce the food wastage, which accounts for one-quarter of Switzerland’s food-related carbon footprint.5 

Ways to prevent food waste

Here are 4 ways you can stop food waste at home.

1. Always follow the ‘Use by’ stamp

The ‘Use by’ stamp shows when the manufacturer can assure it is safe to eat. Experts say these dates should be followed because certain foods can contain dangerous bacteria such as Listeria or Salmonella. These bacteria do not give off obvious odours and can grow in perishable meat and dairy foods like raw chicken, soft cheeses, and meats, but also in bagged salads. Again, apps can help consumers keep on top of food safety. The US Department of Agriculture has developed The FoodKeeper app to advise on how long to keep different kinds of food and how to store them. 

2. Buy “ugly” fruits & vegetables

Carrots are straight, cauliflower is white... But that’s just what we are used to seeing in supermarkets. Cauliflower, for instance, naturally turns yellow in the sun. In richer countries, food waste is mainly caused by consumer behaviour and restrictive retail regulations. 

But we can all change our expectations. Until now, ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables have been rejected by strict retail standards – that’s 50 million tons discarded across Europe each year. But consumers are starting to realise this, and more supermarkets are offering misshapen fruit and vegetables at discount prices.6

3. Choose waste-based products  

Try purchasing food items made from recycled food waste. Bread is one of the most wasted food types, so some companies are using unwanted bread to brew beer. It’s not ground-breaking - the oldest surviving beer recipe by the ancient Mesopotamians uses bread as a key ingredient. About 500 kilograms of uneaten bread can make 4,000 litres of beer.7 

Sometimes, food waste isn’t obvious. Making beer with grain generates vast amounts of spent grain which may be just dumped. But it could be made into granola bars or bread.8 Likewise, what happens to the pulp produced by making juices? See if you can find veggie burgers and snack foods that reuse pulp.9 US company Forager recycle nearly two tons of pulp a week into vegetable chips, and the Rescued Veggie burger was a feature of US sandwich chain Mendocino Farms in 2017.

4. Ask your local collection about converting food waste into biofuel

So, you’re going to bin some food. First, see if there is a local collection service for food waste. When food waste ends up in a landfill, it rots without enough oxygen and emits methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. A better fate would be to send the waste to a biogas producer. Here, bacteria will decompose it in a sealed container, allowing methane gas to be siphoned off to use as fuel. It’s almost the same process as in cow stomachs, although cows are 20 to 30 times more efficient at producing methane.10 

There are over 17,500 biogas producers throughout Europe, and there’ll be tenfold more by 2030.11 If you don’t want to wait, why not purchase your own biogas producer – Israeli start-up Home Biogas are selling household units on Kickstarter.12 

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