The shocking amount of food we waste and how to reduce it.

Published: 15 Nov 2013

YOU know that jar of jam at the back of your fridge that you threw away because it grew some white fur? 
Maybe it was left to go fuzzy because you just didn't fancy jam sandwiches, but don't worry. It might have been lonely and neglected there, but now it's in  
good company. 
It will have joined the average of six full meals each family in Wales throws out every week. This totals around 210,000 tonnes of annual food waste in Wales, according to WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme). That's as heavy as a large oil tanker. 
Last week's report revealed this costs every family with children about £60 a month in wasted food. 
WRAP chief executive officer Dr Liz Goodwin said: "Consumers are seriously worried about the cost of food and how it has increased over recent years. 
"Yet as WRAP's research shows, we are still wasting millions of tonnes and billions of pounds." 
It isn't all bad news, though. The amount we are throwing away has actually gone down in recent years. 
WRAP believes we could further reduce the 4.2 million tonnes we waste across the UK by 1.7m. 
While some of us have stomachs strong enough to cut mould off the rind and still enjoy that cheese butty, many often throw away food that is still safely edible. 
Mark Parsons, head of catering and commercial operations at Coleg Cambria in Flintshire and Wrexham, shared a few hints. 
Mr Parsons said: "Always remember, do not use food after its 'use by' date. 
"However, 'best before' instructions are about quality, not safety. These foods can be consumed after the 'best before' date; they just may have lost some of their flavour." 
Increasingly, pre-packaging means we don't always have the choice of buying a single vegetable and economies of scale mean we can be tempted to buy in bulk. 
But what's the point of buying in higher volumes if a lot of it gets chucked?" 
He added: "Leftover vegetables can be used in soups and frozen ready for use. 
"Over-ripe tomatoes are perfect for Provencal sauce to accompany pasta. Again, freeze ready for use. 
"Mince can be made into burgers and frozen ready for barbecues, and meats can be braised down and used in casseroles and as pie fillings, the perfect comfort food for cosy winter evenings. 
"Jams and chutneys can be made with fruit that is past its best, as the sugar content will preserve the fruit. 
"And finally, use your freezer as a weapon against waste." 
Mr Parsons said: "Freezing food is a great way to reduce waste and extend the life of your food. It is important when freezing food that you freeze in individual portions to ensure you use up what you defrost, portion-by-portion. 
"This controls your usage and prevents further waste." 
There's plenty we can do at home to make sure we don't get to that stage, planning meals and regularly checking cupboards to make sure the jars and cans with the closest use-by date are near the front. 
But when you factor in how much supermarkets waste, it seems that despite our best efforts our relationship with food is going pear-shaped. 
Last month, Tesco, a behemoth of British retail, admitted it threw away about 30,000 tonnes of food, mostly fruit and baked items, from its stores and distribution centres alone. 
That is just one chain out of many, and that's only after the food hits the store. 
More is discarded before it even gets there - one report early this year from the British Retail Consortium indicated that half of our food ends up in the bin. 
Even so, steps are being taken to address the problem. 
Eifion Williams, of Wrexham, founded Fareshare North East Wales, an organisation that tries to redistribute commercial waste food to those who need it. 
Mr Williams said: "It is a volunteer organisation set up to retrieve vast amounts of food for community groups in Wrexham and Flintshire. 
"Huge amounts are wasted every day, disgracefully." 
Much of this food is perfectly edible, Mr Williams said, and was sometimes discarded simply because the labelling was flawed. 
He said: "We believe you also need to tackle what happens in the food industry further up the line. 
"We're in a situation where a supermarket will throw away 11 jars of coffee out of a crate of 12 because one jar smashed and it's not cost effective to clean the other 11. 
"Or food will be thrown away because it's themed, for example if the packaging was designed for the Olympics, it would be disposed of even though the food inside the packet is fine." 
It's not just a case of financial cost. It's a social and environmental cost as well. 
Mr Williams continued: "If you think about it, that's 11 jars of coffee beans fed with water and fertiliser, picked by workers, transported from Kenya or somewhere else, packaged and then freighted to the store. 
"That's a lot of raw material, a lot of effort and a lot of energy in terms of fossil fuels. 
"I keep bees. I know it takes 300 honey bees their entire lives to fill up a jar. A supermarket will throw honey away if it slightly crystallizes, which is perfectly safe and natural." 
Under Fareshare, the good-quality food that would otherwise have been binned is distributed to places such as women's refuges, night shelters and breakfast clubs. 
Mr Williams said: "We need a root and branch examination right through the food production industry as well as at the consumer's end. 
"Ultimately, food and the environment are the only issues that will matter at some point. They will be the headlines of the future." 
Courtesy of News North Wales: http://www.newsnorthwales.co.uk/news/128308/the-shocking-amount-of-food-we-waste-and-how-to-reduce-it.aspx

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