How can we fight food waste?

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One of the recurring themes on these pages is food waste, and how Britain should pull together to put an end to this scandalous waste.

It being December with Christmas fast approaching, we’re mindful of the fact that we’re heading into the season where food waste is at its greatest. Christmas may be the worst time of year for food waste, but official figures show that all year round UK families throw away the equivalent of six plates of food per week.

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And it’s not just households that are to blame – supermarkets, the restaurant and catering trades and the food manufacturing industry are all just as much to blame. Supermarkets especially, whose insistence on displaying only fresh-looking produce leads to a scandalous mountain of waste that is only just being addressed on the back of concern from customers.

It’s a global problem – a third of the world’s food is wasted, and in the UK alone that amounts to over four million tons. The good news is that we’re improving – it’s a figure that has plummeted in the last five years or so, but it is still far too much.

While education for households is coming to the fore, some argue that it’s manufacturers who need to be taken to task for continuing food waste. Naturally, in any process, there’s bound to be waste, and food production will inevitably mean that it’s produced on a grand scale. With any number of things that can go wrong, it’s unsurprising that quality control means that a lot of food is wasted before it even leaves the factory gates.

One concept that both manufacturers and retailers need to look at urgently is the “sell-by” date. On some items, stores are accused of setting them too soon, primarily as a back-up to save themselves from complaints and possible legal action. Customers also confuse sell-by dates and use-by dates, which may lead to perfectly good food being thrown into the bin by the over-cautious.

It’s a difficult thing to change – the desire to fresh, uniform-looking food products is deeply ingrained in both the retailers‘ and customers’ minds, so it will take a great deal of time to learn that it’s sometimes OK to still eat something that’s a bit frayed around the edges. In the mean time, buy less, waste less.

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