Despite soaring costs and an increase in ‘strategic shopping’, Brits are still throwing away millions of items of perfectly edible food each week. Britain throws away 9.5 million tonnes of food each year – 6.4 million tonnes of that waste could have been eaten, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme.
This included 18 million meat and dairy items, 22 million bread and pasta items, 30.9 million fruit and vegetables and 9.7 million sweets, crisps and chocolates – enough to feed the population of Thailand for a day, according to food waste collection app Too Good To Go.
The group laid the blame at consumers blindly following use-by dates as opposed to their own senses to see if food is still good to eat. More than half (56%) of people surveyed said they checked the use by date to determine if a product is still edible, a quarter (26%) checked the best-before date and only 13% actually taste a sample of the product to see if it’s fresh.
Londoners were the most wasteful – 47% reported throwing away at least 1-2 meat and dairy items per week, while 68% said they threw away at least 1-2 fruit and vegetables per week. Then younger generation were the worst offenders, with 71% of 18–34-year-olds reporting they had thrown away at least one piece of fruit or vegetables per week.
‘Feeling the pinch’
Sophie Trueman, country director of Too Good To Go UK and Ireland said: “We know that everyone is feeling the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis and the price of everyday essentials has continued to soar.
“We are on a mission to fight food waste, something which is not only great for our planet, but can also help consumers cut costs – ultimately making their money go further. Our belief is that you don’t need to sacrifice buying your favourite foods in order to be sustainable and save money – you can instead adapt your habits, so you make the most out of everything you buy.”
Research undertaken by food label consultants Ashbury compared internet searches surrounding food waste and available listings on Too Good To Go. A common theme throughout was consumers querying whether or not their food was still safe to eat, harkening back to Too Good To Go’s findings surrounding best-before and use-by labels.
Top searches included: ‘Eggs after best before date’; ‘Can I eat expired tofu?’; ‘How long does peanut butter last?’; ‘Can you use mince one day after use by date?’; and ‘Can you eat expired butter?’.
Use-by versus best-before
Joanna Becker-Hawkins, Senior Regulatory Advisor at Ashbury, said: “When it comes to food labelling, it’s important that people recognise the distinction between a best-before date and a use-by date. In general, a use-by date is about food safety, and you should not consume food or drink that is past its use by date.
“A best-before label is about quality, and is usually found on grocery items, such as pasta, rice, or tinned foods. After a best-before date, the food or drink will still be safe to consume, but might be at its best as the manufacturer intended”
Started in 2017 by Compass Group USA, Stop Food Waste Day draws attention to the issue while educating and engaging with society by sharing practical, creative and impactful ways to minimise food waste.
Amy Keister, global sustainability director at Compass Group said: “While Stop Food Waste Day started as an initiative to reduce food waste in our own kitchens, it has quickly grown to be a movement that brings together consumers, businesses, non-profit organisations, and government entities, all focused on fighting food waste on a global scale.”