Supermarkets in France have been banned from throwing out food approaching its best-before date, it’s been reported over the last week. But wouldn’t it be great if UK supermarkets were made to do this, too?
The new rules also prevent supermarkets in France from deliberately spoiling products to stop people eating them out of the shop’s bins, while some of the bigger supermarkets must sign a contract with a charity promising to donate unsold and edible products, or to turn unused food into compost or animal feed.
Sandwich chain Pret is already doing its bit in the UK, so why can’t others? As part of its Charity Run scheme, 88% of its shops give unsold food to homeless charities every day. Vans scoot around, dropping off sandwiches and salads at the end of the day, or charities can organise to pick them up.
Pret’s initiative isn’t because of a legal requirement, but maybe it should be. I’m not the only one who thinks so – a petition on campaign site 38 Degrees that is aimed at making the Government do something about food waste already has over 130,000 signatures.
It also calls for a scheme to be set up that invites those who can afford to have their food delivered to donate £2 per delivery so vulnerable people and those in need get sent fresh produce en route, too.
According to social enterprise Food Aware, a massive 18 million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK each year – around a third from producers/supply chain, a third from retailers and another third from households.
One way people have been making the most of supermarket waste is via ‘freeganism’ or ‘skipping’ – where people eat leftover food that’s been put in bins. But be careful of doing this, as it’s dodgy territory in the UK.
Under the rather bizarre, pre-Victorian 1824 Vagrancy Act, you could be prosecuted. The act deems you a "rogue or vagabond" if you’re found "in or upon any dwelling house, warehouse, coach-house, stable, or outhouse, or in any inclosed yard, garden, or area, for any unlawful purpose".
So if you’ve clambered over a fence to get into the car park of your local Asda to get your hands on thrown out food, the law could see you as a modern day Dick Turpin.
It was reported last year that three men were arrested for allegedly taking 30 quids’ worth of old tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes out of Iceland’s bins, although the case was later dropped. Strangely, Iceland said it knew nothing about the incident. You can read about it on the BBC.
But it’s not just supermarkets unnecessarily chucking food
I, for one, can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t have an issue with food waste. As a kid, I was made to clear my plate and told to "think of the starving children in Africa" if I left even a sliver of gristle.
Of course the downside to this method is that it could teach children to carry on eating after they’re full, but I think the point of it is a good lesson to be taught.
You can’t deny it’s pretty terrible that seven million tonnes of food is thrown away each year by UK households, and what makes it worse is that almost half of it is stuff we could’ve eaten, according to charity WRAP.
We’ve all done it. That forgotten bag of potatoes that now looks like something out of Alien, the furry oranges discovered at the back of the fridge, and the sopping sludge that you think was once a bag of salad.
But there are ways to cut down on our food waste; you’ve just got to be mindful.
Here are some of my top tips:
Be special offer savvy. It’s easy to get carried away. Supermarket shelves wear their special offer tags like badges of honour, and we all want in on the action. But while 2for1s and BOGOFs are all well and good, it’s worth having a think about whether you’re actually going to get round to eating that ‘free’ 10kg bag of onions before they go off.
Get clued up on expiry dates. As well as avoiding getting swept up in special offers, it pays to be clued up on expiry and best-before dates. Lots of food thrown away is still fine to eat. ‘Use By’ dates are exactly that – eating food after it’s expired is risky, especially when it comes to perishables like meat and dairy. But ‘Best Before’ is about the quality of food, and it’s usually fine to eat even after this date has passed.
We’ve got a handy print out for your fridge to help you remember.
Rotate your fridge contents. Treat your fridge like a supermarket shelf and rotate fresh goods. By putting the new products at the back and moving food you bought a while ago to the front, you’ll avoid ending up with a rotten bag of carrots or a half-eaten pot of yoghurt that looks like it’s come from a swamp.
Cook up a storm and freeze it. If you do end up with bags of veggies that are on the turn, cook them all up together with some herbs and make a huge pot of stew. And don’t worry about eating it all at once – pop the leftovers in Tupperware and freeze them until hunger strikes again.
If you’ve got any of your own tips for preventing food waste, please let us know via our forum or in the comments section below.