HOUSEHOLDS are throwing away up to €1,000 a year of wasted food.
Even though one in every 10 families is unable to afford nutritious meals, official figures reveal that consumers here are also tossing away a million tonnes of food a year.
That equates to €700 worth of food per household on average, with many families wasting around €1,000 a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In a bid to cut down on the unnecessary waste, Safefood will launch a campaign in the coming weeks aimed at educating consumers on what's safe to eat.
"Many of us are throwing away perfectly nutritious foodstuffs because we misinterpret labels such as 'Best Before' and 'Display Until' and assume items are no longer safe to eat," a spokesperson for the food safety body said.
The EPA said that we throw away up to a third of the food we buy, with each household generating around 100kg a year of food waste that we pay for twice -- at the time of purchase and for waste collection.
That includes half the salad, a third of the bread and a quarter of all the fruit we buy.
As well as the costs for households, institutions and businesses face high bills through food waste -- both in unnecessary purchases and high disposal costs.
One hospital found wasted food was costing it around €230,000 a year as a third of the food on patients' trays was coming back untouched, an EPA report found.
Significant savings could be made by introducing more precise ordering by patients and controlling portion sizes.
Irish restaurants are also throwing away €125m a year of food, mainly because of overly generous portions, Unilever Food Solution Ireland said at a recent Resource Ireland conference.
But while all this food is being thrown away, charities report a surge in demand for basic food from many hardpressed families.
The St Vincent de Paul has seen a 50pc surge in the demand for food in the past few years and is now spending close to €10m a year on supermarket vouchers to help families, up from €6.1m in 2008.
A number of food banks are also working with food suppliers and wholesalers to recover unwanted food that can be accessed by charities, homeless groups and community services such as meals on wheels.
"This can range from damaged pallets of food or dented cans that don't meet supermarket standards but are perfectly safe, to wonky carrots that are nutritious but don't look the best," said Sinead Keenan of Healthy Food For All, which works to improve nutrition for impoverished families.
The EPA said that while some food waste, such as vegetable peelings, teabags and meat bones, were unavoidable, much of the rest was down to bulk buying and not planning our meals properly.
The agency urged consumers to resist special offers that encouraged shoppers to buy too much as these were "good for toilet rolls but bad for fruit, vegetables and salad".
It also urged people not to be unrealistic about buying lots of healthy products that they never actually eat.
Ireland's first-ever Feed the 5,000 event will be held in Dublin on November 24, with 5,000 consumers treated to a meal made entirely of misshapen vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.
The event was inspired by international campaigner Tristram Stuart and highlights the amount of food needlessly thrown away.