Saturday 23 February 2019

Fixation with food safety means so much of it goes to waste

THE graphic above shows how the appalling problem of world hunger continues. While we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the problem, there is one practical thing we can all do that can also save us money – stop throwing away good food.

How many times have you reached into the fridge, only to discover the yogurt or fruit juice you were looking forward to enjoying had passed its expiration date?

What next? Did you sling that yogurt into the rubbish? Pour the juice down the sink? You probably congratulated yourself on a lucky escape. After all, who knows what might have happened had you unwittingly consumed food a few hours past its "sell by" or "best before" dates?

In fact, it's likely you would never have noticed. Food date labels are simply a manufacturer's suggestions for "peak quality" and a shelf life they set by their own market standards. The dates don't tell you when your food will spoil, nor do they indicate the safety of food.

A new date labels study released in the United States earlier this month by the Natural Resources Defence Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic reveals that this mass confusion imposes costs on US consumers and businesses and leads to a staggering amount of waste.

In America, they throw away 40pc of the food they produce every year. That's nearly half their food – $165bn dollars' worth. Nine out of 10 discard food because of the mistaken belief the "sell by" date has a food safety implication.

Discarded food is the biggest single contributor to solid waste in landfills. Americans are throwing away perfectly good food at a time when one in six is considered 'food insecure', meaning they struggle to put food on their tables year-round. Globally, 28pc of the world's farmland is being used to produce food that is not being eaten. That's an area bigger than China.

This is a terrible waste, not just of the food itself, but of the resources that go into producing that food.

Consumer food waste is a developed-world problem.

A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation revealed that 31pc to 39pc of food waste at retail and consumer levels occurs within the middle and high-income areas of the world, compared with just 4pc to 16pc in developing nations.

UNEP urges a "reduce, reuse, recycle" policy: reducing food waste, wherever possible, at every stage of the supply chain; reusing wasted food by distributing it to the needy, through food banks, for example; and recycling through composting rather than inefficient landfill.

None of this needs to be costly.

UNEP has identified areas where significant savings can be made, and new economic opportunities can be grasped, in tackling this ongoing issue.

But when it comes to tackling the mountain of food waste we produce every year, everyone needs to step up to the plate. (Additional reporting Reuters)

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