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7 Mar 2022

Four ways to reduce your food waste at home

Ignoring best before dates and making better use of your fridge - cut back on waste for Food Waste Action Week

Globally, one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that 6.6 million tonnes of food waste is thrown away by households alone and almost 75% was food that could have been eaten.

It's Food Waste Action Week and so an opportune time to consider your relationship with the food you eat, and don't eat. Food waste is a huge environmental issue and it costs consumers financially too. But there are some simple rules to follow which could help you waste less. Here are four key things to do to reduce your waste.

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1) Use common sense with best before dates

There's still huge consumer confusion over the difference between 'use-by' and 'best-before' dates.

Use-by dates are about safety and are mostly found on meat, fish, and some ready-to-eat foods such as ready meals and quiches. You shouldn't eat these foods after their use-by dates as there's a possibility they'll make you ill.

Best-before dates are about quality - there's no danger in eating foods past their best-before date, though they won't be in tip-top condition. There may be a deterioration in taste or nutritional quality.

There's currently an argument for these dates to be removed entirely from some food, particularly fruit and vegetables.

A recent WRAP study found that participants in an experiment were more likely to throw away slightly imperfect looking but still edible items when they were had an expired best-before date on them.

Even the label bearing the best-before date requires a level of packaging that is mostly unneccessary for uncut fruit and veg (exceptions include some soft fruits and berries).

Buying loose, uncut fruit and veg should help reduce food waste in two ways. Firstly, you are more likely to buy the quantity you actually need. But secondly, you won't have a best-before date to tempt you to throw it away when it's still edible. Trusting your instincts to dispose of items only when they look or smell bad is a better bet. And, of course, you'll be reducing your plastic packaging waste.

Best-before dates can be more useful on other grocery items such as baked goods. Noting how long it's got left might give you an idea of what order to eat things in, or whether or not to freeze them to use on a later date.

You should also take note of other labelling guidelines such as 'once opened, consume within five days'.

2) Pay attention to use-by dates

Morrisons recently took the step of removing use-by dates from its own-brand milk and replacing them with a best before date. It suggests that customers rely on a 'sniff' test in the first instance to decide whether the milk is still ok.

It says it's taken this step because milk is the third most wasted food and drink product in the UK, after potatoes and bread. And milk has a large carbon footprint because it is so resource intensive. Dairy products will go sour before they are a health risk, so relying on your nose is a safe way to keep drinking milk no matter it's best-before date.

But for most products with a use-by date, you do need to be cautious. Eating foods that are outside of their use-by date can mean ingesting harmful bacteria and developing food poisoning.

That means you should keep an eye on use-by dates when you're shopping, and only buy products that you know you can consume in time. If you're not going to be able to eat it before that date - freeze it. Food can be safely frozen at any point up to the use-by date. Just make sure you only defrost it when you are ready to use it.

3) Keep (most) fruit and veg in the fridge

WRAP recently released research looking at the impact on shelf life of keeping fruit and veg in the fridge that you might often leave in the fruit bowl or larder. They measured how long apples, broccoli and potatoes last in and out of refridgerated conditions.

Apples when refrigerated lasted between 69 and 77 days longer (depending on whether they were packaged or not). Broccoli also lasted significantly longer in the fridge than out - though the research found that most people do this already.

Potatoes lasted an average of 90 days longer in the fridge. That said, the Food Standards Agency advises that refrigerating potoates can lead to increased acrylamide levels (particularly if the potatoes are then cooked at very high temperatures) which is a naturally occurring carcinogenic chemical - so it's probably best to stick with keeping your spuds in a cool, dark place.

For some fruit and veg, chilling halts the ripening process. This includes bananas and avocados, which should be fully ripe before you refrigerate them.

Keeping tomatoes in the fridge is a source of debate in many households. It certainly extends their shelf life but can also impair their flavour. This is also because they are usually not fully ripe when you buy them, and chilling them halts the ripening process.

4) Check your fridge temperature

Turning down the temperature dial of your fridge can significantly extend the shelf-life of its contents. WRAP found that decreasing a fridge's temperature from 9 degrees to 4 degrees centigrade could make cucumbers last five days longer (25% of shelf life), double the life of broccoli, keep milk fresh for another 1.5 days and hard cheese almost another 9.

Previous studies have suggested that around half of UK fridges are running above the recommended range of 0-5 degrees centigrade. While you might think that your fridge is at the temperature it says on the dial, our lab tests have found that many fridge models have inaccurate thermostats. And when it comes to keeping your food as long as possible, every degree counts.

To check your fridge's temperature you can put a thermometer in a glass of water in the fridge and leave it overnight. You can also buy specific fridge thermometers for under £10.

Find out more about what temperature a fridge should be and how to make sure yours is performing at its best.