Food waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

food-wasteMuch is being talked about this pressing issue by governments – God help us! – and industry – oh God! – but very little is actually being done to prevent food waste.

People are being urged to waste less food – common sense really but then common sense is not all that common and somewhat of a misnomer – but much of the waste happens before it ever reaches the consumer.

Instead of prosecuting dumpster divers and food rescuers they should be given medals rather on account of what they are doing. And yes, I am rather serious here and it should not only apply to dumpster divers “diving” for tossed out food.

But back to waste food and what to do about it, at home and elsewhere.

When it comes to food waste at home and how to avoid it there are a number of steps to take.

The first thing we can do after buying less and not falling for the BOGOF (buy one get one free) and such offers is to understand the dates printed on the packaging especially, such as “sell by”, “use by”, “best before”, and “display until”.

“Sell by” and “display until” are dates that are for in-store use only and thus, as consumers, they are not really of concern to us whatsoever. Many people, however, seem to see those dates as the appropriate ones when the product should be thrown away.

Now we come to the dates that do concern us as consumers and to their meaning.

Best before: This date does indeed mean what it says, namely that a product is considered best before the given date. It does not, however, mean that it cannot be consumed still a couple of days, weeks or even months – depending on the product – after that date given.

Use by: This is a date that, especially with foods that could cause health risks when too old and “gone off”, such as fish and meat and a number of dairy products, the consumer – you and I – should take note of.

Then comes the proper storage of goods and most produce and especially eggs do not belong in the refrigerator. As far as eggs are concerned they are to be stored in an egg carton (cardboard please and not plastic) with the bottoms up. That way they keep longer.

And how long does a fresh egg keep? As a keeper of hens I can say that they do at least 3-4 weeks, in fact a great deal longer. But please consider that if you buy your eggs from a store they are not “farm fresh”, whatever the label may say, and have been in those boxes for already several weeks when you get to buy them, and that even in high turnover supermarkets.

Tomatoes are also best not kept in the fridge as they lose their flavor in that environment and they also do not keep any the better there either.

Most vegetables should not be stored in the refrigerator but in a slightly cool but dark place away from heat sources and that is the very reason we used to have pantries in our homes before.

Bread belongs into the bread bin where it will keep well for some time. But this applies to proper oven-baked bread only. The garbage that is sold as bread in most supermarkets, the stuff that is sliced and in bags, never has seen an oven but was steam baked and does not keep. It is not intended to do.

Leftovers: One of the largest source of food waste in the home is leftovers and the fact that many people today seem to be incapable of cooking from scratch and especially seem to have no idea as to what to do with leftovers from the previous day's meal.

It is amazing, to some degree, and sad, to watch people go out and buy pre-prepared “Bubble & Squeak” because they like it while, at the same time, throwing out vegetables from the previous day's dinner into the trashcan.

Many people today have absolutely no idea what to do with leftovers and that is where the greatest food waste, aside from not understanding the dates on packaged foods, in the home. All too many people also buy ready meals leftovers from which, alas, cannot, often, be safely reused as reheating those leftovers could cause gastric problems and even food poisoning.

One of those foods, even if it is cooked at home from scratch, is rice. If rice is not reheated properly it can cause serious stomach upsets which can, in some cases, be fatal. However, reheated properly, leftover rice is perfectly safe to use. One thing to remember is that once reheating leftovers is fine, repeated reheating may not be and thus this is something to remember if you have leftover take-out food. Then again, why would you want to bother with that kind of food anyway if you can, and you can, make it all much cheaper from scratch at home.

© 2014