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How to Combat Food Waste

Just recently, new South African research on food waste hit the news, showing that 34% of our locally produced food gets wasted. Never mind the greenhouse gasses emitted from wasted food decomposing in landfill - can a country like ours, where so many households struggle to put food on the table, really afford this?

Most of the wastage unfolds in the processing and packaging stage, but the shocking stat was that food waste at consumer level increased from 5% in 2013 to 18% in 2021. So the question arises: what can we, as consumers, do to make a difference?

Here are some practical tips on what we can do to reduce our food waste:

Reorganise your fridge

Do this a day or two before a shopping trip to see what is still left and what is looking a little limp and sad. Stew bruised fruit (and add to yoghurt) or bake an apple crumble, make a “raid-your-fridge fritatta” with the wonky baby marrow, the almost-mouldy cheese (or just cut the mould off) and any last root vegetables, eggs or meat you have lying around. Making a green juice or smoothie is also great for using up fruit, vegetables and herbs. If you don’t have time to use up all the ingredients, assign a shelf in the fridge to so-called “urgent use-up” foods and plan the next week’s meals around those ingredients.

Write a shopping list and plan your meals

This will help so you don’t buy any unnecessary ingredients that will still be sitting in the back of your fridge in 2 week's time. Try sticking to your shopping list - don’t fall for the specials. As enticing as it may sound, buying 4 for the price of 2 only ends up going to waste if it is more than you need.

Think ‘Root to Fruit’

The stems, stalks and leaves of most vegetables are just as delicious as the “main event”. You can make pesto from carrot tops. Steamed beetroot greens are sweeter than spinach and kale. Add the whole cauliflower and broccoli to your recipe next time - stalks, leaves and all. The next time you’re about to throw away some parmesan rind, pop it into a soup or bolognese to give an amazing flavour boost.

Be conscious of where and what you shop

Shopping only at supermarkets and buying “perfect” fruit and vegetables is not helping the environment or reducing food waste. It is a sad reality that we have been trained by retailers to demand perfection and uniformity of fruit and vegetables in shape, size and colour. When shopping at the supermarket head to the “loose” aisle instead of the plastic-wrapped aisle. Pick the “ugly” produce (if available) as, despite their wonky appearances, they taste just as good but often get wasted as consumers don’t want to buy them.

Remember to take your own bags and containers so that your purchases are package-free.

You could also order directly from the farmer or these local companies: Straight From The Ground, Abundance Wholesome Foods, Munching Mongoose, The Ubuntu Project, Farm Fresh Online, Virgin City Fields, The Crop Box Africa, Farmbox Direct. Visiting local markets is also a great way to support farmers and their less than perfect produce. The other advantage of shopping at these places is that you are supporting local (and often organic) farmers and small businesses, and the produce is often fresher (and therefore lasts longer) because of the shorter supply chain.

Ideally, it would also be great if you could grow some of your own herbs, vegetables and fruit. Surplus can be shared, swapped or bottled for the leaner months.

Store to prevent spoilage

This is key to make your fresh produce last longer. Here are a few tips:

  • Cover up. Food spoils faster when exposed. Use sealed containers like pyrex dishes, glass jars or stasher bags. Place a food cover over bowls, or seal a bowl with a plate over top.
  • Store food in see-through containers like glass, so that you can see at a glance what is inside them and not forget about the food before it’s too late.
  • Herbs, salad leaves and spinach will last longer if kept in a bag or covered in a moist towel inside a container. Store herbs like mint and coriander with roots in a jar of water.
  • Avocado halves can be stored inside a container of water and spring onions will keep growing inside the fridge if kept in water.
  • Separate fruits and vegetables and store bananas away from both. Reason why? Ethylene. This gas gets emitted by most fruits and most vegetables are sensitive to ethylene and will ripen/spoil faster when exposed to it.

The freezer is your friend

How much do you utilise your freezer? Could it help you more? Consider what you waste the most and think about freezing those foods before they get a chance to “go bad”. We all know about freezing ripe bananas (perfect for banana bread and smoothies) but what about that half bag of tired rocket or spinach? If you know it’s an extra busy week or that it’s likely you won’t get to your herbs or leaves in time, pop them into the freezer. Spinach can be blended straight from frozen into smoothies, and rocket and watercress can be stirred into soups, stews and bolognese sauces. If you often find yourself with stale bread, try freezing sliced bread in advance or put it through a blender and make some breadcrumbs to freeze. The same goes for milk. You’ll be glad when you land back home from holiday and don’t have to go to the shops first thing for breakfast and a cup of tea.

Food waste and composting

We discussed this in great detail in The Basic Guide to Composting available on our blog. We all end up with the odd mouldy cabbage, and the best thing you can do if you can no longer eat it, is let it decompose into wonderful compost that will fertilise your own plants and veggie patch.

How to navigate Sell By, Use By and Best Before dates

Best Before and Use By dates should be used as a guide, but we also need to use our common sense. If food still looks, smells and tastes fine but is past its Best Before date it will still be perfectly fine to eat. Just be cautious with meat and dairy products.

Best Before dates are an indicative guide of when the quality of food or drink will start to change. This has nothing to do with food safety. Food that has passed its Best Before date is safe to eat. It should be used as a rough guide, not as a strict rule - there’s no reason to throw food into the dustbin that is still perfectly safe to eat and will often still taste just as good.

Sell By and Use By dates are determined by the Health Department and are directly linked to food safety. The Sell By date is the last day on which the product should appear on a store shelf. Use your senses - it is generally safe to consume the product beyond this date if it looks and smells fine. Care must be still taken that it has not spoiled due to broken packaging or because the cold chain was interrupted.

 

Food waste is a big issue that affects us all. By giving food the respect it deserves, by being more mindful and changing a few habits and systems we could all make a difference.

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