Are you fed up with food waste? In the UK our household food waste bill adds up to a whopping 7.2 million tonnes per year.
At least two thirds of this is avoidable. Confusion over sell-by, use-by, and best-before dates leads to throwing away food that could still be eaten.
Short of shopping for fresh food everyday (who has the time for that?), what can we do to keep food fresh for longer and start cutting food waste?
Proper Storage Will Keep Food Fresh for Longer
The secret to keeping foods fresh is to store them in the proper place or in the correct storage conditions. This will keep food at its best and give it a longer life.
On the Worktop
If you plan to eat your fruits and veggies within the next couple of days they can sit on the worktop.
Many fruits and vegetables emit ethylene, a natural gas that accelerates ripening. To prevent fresh produce from ripening too quickly, let air circulate around the food rather than keeping it in plastic bags or boxes.
Bananas are big ethylene-emitters and they can cause nearby fruit and veg to ripen quickly. To prevent bananas from over ripening the rest of the bunch, it’s best to let them hang from a banana tree. However, you can also use this to your advantage. If you have a stubbornly unripe avocado, a great tip is to put it in a paper bag with a banana to speed up the ripening process!
In the Fridge
Once unwrapped, store fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers of your fridge. These drawers help trap moisture, whereas food sitting in the main part of the fridge can dry out quickly.
Celery and asparagus are an exception though. They can stay fresh by standing in a glass of water on the worktop – just remember to change the water every few days.
In the Pantry or Larder
If you’re lucky enough to have a cool, dry, dark space like a pantry or larder, then root vegetables, apples, and pears can stay there for months.
Keep the space ventilated and store them in cloth bags or cardboard rather than plastic.
I have childhood memories of my parents keeping our homegrown apples wrapped in newspaper in cardboard boxes in the attic!
Fermenting foods is also a great way to use up a surplus of vegetables and extend their life beyond a few weeks. Some fermented foods can last for months!
In the Freezer
Bread should normally go stale within a couple of days. But the high levels of preservatives in processed bread keep it going for a week or more. Freeze fresh bread if you’re unlikely to eat it within a day or two.
Plastic-Free Food Storage Solutions
If you’re striving to reduce your food waste, you might also be trying to reduce your reliance on plastic – particularly the single use variety.
There’s now lots of products available to help you swap Tupperware and cling film for non-plastic versions. This is a quick way to reduce your exposure to plastic chemicals and keep food fresh.
Glass storage boxes are available from homeware stores and IKEA. If you buy glass jars of jam, marmalade, mustard or other condiments you can upcycle these into handy storage pots for fridge or freezer.
When freezing foods in glass containers, remember to leave at least an inch of space at the top of the jar. This allows for the food expanding when frozen.
For an alternative to plastic wrap, check out Buzz cloth, BeeBee Wraps or BeesWrap. These are all plastic-free, non-toxic, biodegradable food wraps. They’re designed to keep in the moisture and stop food drying out. So not only do they protect your food from the elements or cross contamination, they give food a longer life too.
These food wraps are made from cotton and beeswax. They’re washable and reusable many times over, lasting for up to three years. They’re practical and stylish too; perfect for your packed lunch or a picnic!
Keeping track of what you’ve bought and when to use it is complicated (see above: who’s got time for that?!). It may be crucial to reducing food waste but keeping track of everything manually is impractical.
Start by stocking your shelves with only what you need. Before hitting the shops, have a hunt around to see what you already have in your fridge and cupboards. You may be surprised at what’s lurking there!
Planning ahead is another great tip. While it sounds like a drag, meal planning can save time (and money!) in the long run. It also ensures you don’t buy more food than you need.
Kitchen Gadgets and Apps to Reduce Food Waste
Personally, I’m a bit of a luddite and have my shopping list and meal plan handwritten and pinned to the fridge. But for app-lovers there are a wealth of meal planning and recipe apps. These apps can sync with your shopping list, making the whole process seamless.
Uneaten cooked food – especially rice and pasta – accounts for a lot of food waste. It’s hard to judge the dry weight vs. cooked weight of certain foods, so try a portion measurer to get an idea.
There are several kitchen gadgets on the market that can help you keep your food fresh. Use them alongside a standard fridge thermometer to make sure food is kept cold enough to preserve its freshness.
Finally, if after all the planning and freezing you’re still well and truly stuck with too much food, then consider OLIO the food sharing app. Upload a picture of what you want to share, and other users will offer to take it from you. Since its launch in 2015, the app has saved over 44,000 food items from going to waste. And no doubt it’s sparked some neighbourly connections and conversations in the process.
Food waste is one of the biggest – but solvable – issues we’ll likely see in our lifetime. Reducing food waste at home isn’t easy. But keeping food in the right place, combined with some simple storage solutions and a bit of planning is a huge step in the right direction.