Budget buster: Food waste a disgrace

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2014
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BEST BEFORE: Keep an eye on your fresh fruit and vegetables so they don't perish and wind up in the compost.

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"Finish your dinner - there are starving kids in Africa."

It's a favourite finger-waving mum motto, and unfortunately it's absolutely true.

There is such a glut of cheap food available to us here in New Zealand that we're completely cavalier about wasting it.

If the bread has a spot of mould, the whole loaf goes in the bin. If an apple has a bruise, out it goes.

A recent report estimated we send 258,886 tonnes of food to landfill each year, or 68 kilograms per person.

It is well over 100kg each once you account for the scraps that end up in the compost bin, fed to pigs, or swallowed down the maw of waste disposers.

Wherever there's waste and inefficiency, you can guarantee there's serious money to be saved.

The annual cost of wasted food is estimated at $751 million, or $458 per household.

I reckon we can easily cut that figure in half, saving the average household at least $229.

That's a modest goal. To put it in context, the average food waste per person in sub-Saharan Africa is a mere 5kg a year.

Even in more developed parts of the world, frugal and efficient societies such as the Germans' are putting us to shame.

Luckily, there are some easy steps which will ease your grocery bill and your conscience at the same time.

The first is to take "best before" dates with a big pinch of salt.

Supermarkets are super vigilant about not giving one of their customers some nasty bug, so they're forced to be over-cautious.

Expiry dates should always be adhered to, unless you happen to enjoy bouts of explosive diarrhoea.

But "best before" dates are different. According to the Ministry of Primary Industry's Foodsmart website, they're about quality, not safety: "Foods can usually be eaten after this date, they just might not taste as good or be as nutritious."

There's an entire grocery chain based around this concept called Reduced to Clear.

It gets close to two million visits a year to its network of 14 stores, showing many people are already switched on to the savings to be made.

Some foods, such as canned goods, and preserves and dry goods such as pasta, will usually still be good years beyond their best-before date.

The good old-fashioned sniff test has never failed me. If it smells OK and tastes OK, it's probably fine.

The next step is to make better use of any leftovers. If you can't bring yourself to tackle them the next day, chances are they'll lurk at the back of the fridge until they're cultivating a nice forest of mould.

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If you've over-catered and really can't stomach the thought of having the same meal three times in a row, bag them up and freeze them for an easy meal later on.

One of the biggest sources of food waste is fresh produce like fruit and vegetables. If you rescue them before they blacken and rot, they can also be frozen.

Alternatively, a juicer or blender will turn pretty much any combination of past-it produce into a delicious and healthy smoothie or juice.

The final step is extending the life of the food in your fridge.

Investing in a good set of tightly-sealed containers will go a long way, as will checking the seals and temperature on your fridge.

You don't need a cast-iron stomach to cut down dramatically on food waste - just a bit of common sense, planning and know-how

- Sunday News

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