Are you always throwing out food that's gone off? It's been claimed that food labelling guidance could save shoppers £1 billion a year by prolonging the lifespan of food and stopping edible items being thrown out. So if you're prone to emptying your fridge into the bin, we've 12 tips to help you stop throwing food (and money) away.
Update 23 August 2022: This blog was first published in January 2018, but the principles remain the same.
We're talking here about stopping avoidable food waste, but it is of course crucial to make sure you only eat older leftovers when it's safe to do so. We asked the Food Standards Agency what you need to be aware of when using up leftover food, and it told us: "Food with a 'best before' date – which concerns food quality and not food safety – should be safe to eat after the stated date, although it may not be at its best quality.
"Consumers can use sensory cues to determine whether the food is suitable to eat, be that looking for visible mould on bread, tasting to see if biscuits or crisps are stale, or smelling some dairy products (with 'best before' dates) to see if they have soured."
So before trying any of the following, make sure the food's safe to eat, and don't ignore 'use by' dates – as opposed to 'best before' dates – even if the food looks and smells OK. See full help on the Food Standards Agency website. Now let's get started…
1. Check you're keeping the RIGHT food in the fridge
It's a source of much debate, but the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) charity, which knows its onions when it comes to food waste, gives this advice about storing different foods to keep them fresh for as long as possible:
What it says SHOULD go in the fridge
- Eggs – kept in their box
- 'Most' other fruit and vegetables – though see important exceptions below
What it says SHOULDN'T go in the fridge
- Potatoes – store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, in original packaging
- Bananas – store in a cool, dry place, in their original packaging if sold in a bag
- Onions – store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, in their original packaging if sold in a bag
- Pineapples – store in a cool, dry place
- Bread – store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and once opened, reseal bag to keep it fresher for longer
When it comes to tomatoes and apples, WRAP suggests keeping these in the fridge. However, others (including food waste app Olio) suggest it's better to keep these out of the fridge.
2. Use a leftover food recipe finder to empty out your fridge
The SuperCook site lets you search recipes from various cooking websites by selecting ingredients you need to use up. There are similar tools on BBC Good Food and Love Food Hate Waste, though these only let you search by one ingredient at a time.
You can even find recipes that make use of items you'd normally throw away or compost – such as potato peel. Recipes include:
- Anytime eggs
- Leftover porridge and cranberry muffins
- Potato peel soup
- Chunky leftover roast chicken soup
3. Have an 'eat it first' section
Sounds obvious, but a little organisation in your fridge can go a long way. Sort through it and prioritise foods that are closest to going off.
This should make sure you don't leave anything forgotten at the back that will end up in the bin.
4. Make a meal plan (and stick to it)
You can avoid a lot of food waste simply by buying only the ingredients you need for your meals each week. To help, thrifty MoneySaving Old-Stylers on our forum have put together menu planners of various thrift levels to copy and download. See an index of free MoneySaving menu planners.
Also, check out our Make four people five dinners for £20 blog for inspiration.
5. Turn stale bread into French toast, croutons, bread pudding and more
If you end up with stale bread, there are a whole host of recipes you can use to make it into something tasty. Try turning it into:
MSE Forumite crazytree said: "Finally got round to using all the stale bread... I have one large bread pudding and a small one. Very tasty with ice cream for pudding. It'll do for packed lunches this week too."
Again, it's important to stress here we're talking about stale, not decomposing, bread. The Food Standards Agency says: "Bread should be safe to consume past its 'best before' date but consumers should not eat bread that is mouldy."
6. Turn old bananas into milkshakes, banana bread, banana pops and more
If your bananas have turned to the dark side, try adding them to these recipes to make them more appetising:
- Banana bread
- Banana bread-and-butter pudding
- Frozen chocolate bananas
- Banana milkshake
- Instant banana ice cream
Forumite Hev said: "I had half a dozen bananas going very ripe so made banana bread and banana muffins – I had forgotten how yummy they are."
And Primrose has another suggestion: "If you have slightly ripe bananas you're trying to use up in a fruit salad, a squeeze of lemon juice (or even lime juice) will make them far more palatable."
7. Store bread in the freezer to keep it fresh longer
To stop bread going stale in the first place, put it in the freezer the day you buy it. Then take it out a couple of slices at a time for toast or sandwiches. (If you buy unsliced loaves, slice them before freezing.)
If you're making packed lunches for work or school, don't let defrosting bread slow you down. You can make them while the bread is still frozen and it will defrost in time for lunch. And don't worry, while it may sound potentially messy if you've never tried it before, there's no excess water involved – the slices will just defrost to become normal bread.
8. Freeze lemon and lime slices and use them in drinks
If you only use part of a lemon or lime for a recipe, DON'T leave the rest in the fridge to slowly shrivel up. Slice it or cut it into wedges, and put it in the freezer to use as a fruity alternative to ice cubes.
To make sure they don't stick together, separate slices by laying them on ice cube trays and then move them to a freezer bag once they've frozen.
Forumite LameWolf uses this trick: "I prefer a slice of lemon in my tea instead of milk, and always keep lemon slices in the freezer for this purpose."
9. Don't throw away broccoli stems – they can taste just as good
Did you know you can eat the stem of broccoli? A surprising number of people throw it away, but if you trim off the tough outer layer and cook the stem with the rest of the broccoli 'florets', the stem can taste just as good (if not better).
10. Freeze herbs, stock, yogurt and even TEA in ice cube trays for drinks, soups and sauces
Lots of food and drinks can be saved from being wasted by freezing them in ice cube trays. They're then in convenient portions for you to add to your cooking (or use in another drink).
- Stock, wine or herbs – add to soups, stews, sauces or gravy
- Fruit or fruit juice – add to smoothies or use as flavoured ice cubes in drinks
- Yogurt – add to smoothies or curries
- Coconut milk/cream – add to curries or sauces
- Tea and coffee – add to iced tea or coffee instead of ice cubes
If you're freezing herbs, some Forumites recommend adding olive oil to your ice cube tray – others say they add water.
11. Make ice lollies or smoothies with leftover fruit, yogurt, fruit juice
If you own a smoothie maker (or blender), you'll know they're a great way to use up all sorts of things – including fruit, yogurt, milk, ice cream, fruit juice and lemonade.
But another option is to make homemade ice lollies to use up these leftovers. You'll just need some ice lolly moulds and a freezer, and you can create loads of different combinations, from fruity ice lollies to yogurt pops.
Try these BBC Good Food recipes to get you started.
12. Make the perfect amount of pasta and rice every time
Use these measuring tricks to avoid wasting rice and pasta every time you cook them. You may need to adjust the amount slightly depending on your/your family's appetite, but they should give you a good starting point.
- Rice – measure a quarter of a mug of uncooked rice per person (it might not look enough, but that's the portion suggested by Love Food Hate Waste – don't forget it will swell up during cooking)
- Pasta – use your plate or bowl to measure out each portion of uncooked pasta – make sure it's not quite full, as the pasta will expand during cooking
- Spaghetti – if you don't own an actual spaghetti measurer, take a bundle of dry spaghetti about the same diameter as a 10p coin – it should be enough for two servings
Got any other tips on avoiding food waste? Let us know in the Love Food Hate Waste forum thread.