Where is food wasted?
It sounds crazy but it’s true, one third of all food produced in the world every year gets lost or wasted (1). That is equal to 1,6 billion tons of edible food. If we saved just one fourth of that amount, we could feed additional 870 million hungry people. In developed countries the consumers are responsible for a large portion of that waste.
It is estimated that Germany wastes around 11 million tons of food (2), UK around 10,2 million tons (3) and the whole of the EU around 88 million tons of food every year. The chart above shows that households are responsible for about 53% of that waste (4). That is quite shocking! But it’s also good news because it’s in our hands. We can do something about it.
Why is food wasted?
There are many reasons why food is wasted in our homes. In this article, we want to focus on the three most common ones and share a few tips that will help you improve.
- Storing food incorrectly
- Misunderstanding food labels
- Not planning before shopping and cooking
#1 Improve your food storing skills
Proper food storage will help you prevent foods from spoiling or ripening prematurely. Choosing the right storing temperature is key. Here are some common mistakes.
Room temperature storing
- Potatoes are best kept in a cool, dry, and dark place like a cellar or the bottom of your pantry. Store them in an open bowl or a paper bag. The fridge is too cold (they like 6–10°C) and makes them convert starch into sugar.
- Tropical and subtropical produce like tomatoes, citrus fruits, eggplants, bananas, avocado, or peppers should be kept at room temperature to retain their moisture.
- Onions are fine at room temperature too. Keep them separate from potatoes and bananas as those could make them rot prematurely.
- Bread should be sealed in an airtight bag or box and stored in a dark, dry place.
Try to stick with a “first in, first out” system in the fridge. It helps to store new items behind the older ones as a visual cue. Don’t mix fruit, vegetables, and meat to avoid the risk of cross-contamination. You can follow this layout to optimize your fridge.
- Lower shelves - meat, fish, eggs
- Upper shelves - dairy, leftovers
- Low humidity drawers - green vegetables, carrots
- High humidity drawers - fruit, herbs, mushrooms
- Door - condiments
Freezer is the best tool to extend the life of leftovers and other food that you can’t eat in time. Here are a few tips to make the most out of freezing.
- Divide food into individual portions before freezing.
- Label packages with their content and date of freezing.
- When you defrost food, make sure to eat it within 24 hours.
- Once a raw food is thawed completely you can only refreeze it again once you’ve cooked it thoroughly.
#2 Understand food labels
It’s important to always read food labels for storage instructions. And it helps to understand the differences between use-by, best before, and sell-by dates.
The “use-by” date is about safety. Eating foods past this date could be unsafe, even if they have been stored correctly and look and smell ok. The use by date is most commonly used for foods that go off quickly like meat and fish.
The “best-before” date is about quality. Eating foods past the best before date is not automatically unsafe. Foods that are past this date may start losing flavour and texture but they are often good for longer. You can use your senses to judge them.
The “sell by” date or its alternatives like “expires on” or “eat by” or “display until” should be ignored. These are not meant for the customer and are mostly used by retailers to manage stock rotations.
#3 Make a plan
Proper planning can save a lot of money and food. The important thing is to make food planning a habit. Here is a quick guide on how to get started.
- Take inventory – Check how much food you have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
- Make a shopping list – Write down items you’re running low on. Look up tasty recipes you want to cook next week and think about snacking too. Put everything you need on the list.
- Buy in bulk – You can buy dried and canned food in bulk because it lasts long.
- Stick to the list – Ignore flashy deals in the supermarket unless the item is on your list. These often make you overbuy.
- Don’t go shopping hungry – This is guaranteed to make you overbuy too!
We hope this helps you save some food that would otherwise be wasted. Together we can make the world a better place by reducing waste!
- FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Rome, http://www.fao.org/3/a-i2697e.pdf
- BMEL. 2019, https://www.lebensmittelwertschaetzen.de/strategie/zahlen/
- WRAP restates UK food waste figures to support united global action. 2018, http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/wrap-restates-uk-food-waste-figures-support-united-global-action
- FUSIONS. Estimates of European food waste levels. 2016, http://www.eu-fusions.org/phocadownload/Publications/Estimates%20of%20European%20food%20waste%20levels.pdf