July 8, 2008

10 Ways to Trim Your Waste

By Alice Wyllie

THE profligacy of the so-called 'nice decade' is history. With food prices increasing and family shopping bills rising rapidly, belt-tightening is all the rage and the best starting point for it is in the kitchen. Gordon Brown has called time on our habit of throwing GBP 1 billion worth of food in the bin each year. According to a new Government report, British households threw out four million tonnes of food last year that could have been eaten - an average cost of GBP 420 per household on wasted food. So what can we do to prevent this? Follow The Scotsman's Top 10 tips on reducing food waste, saving pennies and clearing your eco-conscience.

1Think before you shop More than a third of us go shopping without an old-fashioned shopping list, leaving us free to impulse buy, waste money and put in our baskets too many things we don't need and won't use. "We're shopping in a less planned manner," says Mark Barthel of wasteawarelovefood.org.uk. "Take a couple of minutes before you go shopping to check what you have in your fridge and shop with meals in mind so you're not buying food you won't eat."

2Get yourself a ration book

Remembering how people lived and ate during the Second World War - a time when no-one would dream of putting food in the bin - really puts our 21st-century eating habits into perspective. Track down a copy of Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts from 1940-54 by wartime Ministry of Food recipe writer Marguerite Patten (published by Hamlyn) for inspiration on how to make do in the kitchen.

3Chill your fruit "While most of us will put our vegetables in the fridge, we're still storing fruit at room temperature. Keep it in the fridge instead and you'll extend its shelf life by up to a fortnight," says Barthel. "And keep fruit and veg in the plastic bags you bought them in. Keep them loosely tied and the humid environment inside the bag will also help to extend their shelf life."

4Take a leaf out of the Continental book The French and Italians often buy fresh food daily and are aghast at the idea of splurging on a weekly basis on a trolley-load of food. Forget loading up your fridge, try to buy fresh ingredients on your lunch break or before/ after work for your dinner that evening. You'll find that less is wasted and you'll have to plan your meal more carefully.

5Store food properly Storing it carefully it will keep safe for longer. "Store raw foods in the fridge and keep them well-covered, on the bottom shelf so they can't drip on to other foods, and cover dishes and other open containers with foil or film," says Christine Welberry of the Food and Drink Federation. "Use up older items first."

6Learn the difference between sell by, use by and best before "Sell by is a guide for the retailer, use by and best before are for the consumer. Use your nose to decide if something is edible or not, and remember that best before is quite a rough guide to when a product is at its very best, not to when it's edible," says Caroline Laitner of Waste Watch.

7Try shopping online Most supermarkets have their own online shopping services these days. Barthel says: "By buying your food online, you can have a favourites list that allows you to buy the same basics again and again, you can see what you're spending and you're less likely to impulse buy. You tend to buy only what you need and know you'll use." Try www.sainsburys.co.uk or www.tesco.com for online shopping.

8Make use of your leftovers If you can't decide what to do with bits and pieces of leftovers try www.bbc.co.uk/food where you can enter the ingredients you have and they'll suggest recipes.

9 Keep your fridge cold Seventy per cent of our fridges are set at too high a temperature. "Most of us keep our fridge at around seven degrees, when in fact, five degrees is a much better temperature for storing food," says Barthel. "That extra two degrees can reduce the shelf life of your milk by 25 per cent and your cut meats by 50 per cent."

10Recycle any wasted food and packaging "If you do find that you've got food that can't be used, you should still be trying to recycle as much of the packaging and its contents as possible," says Duncan Simpson of Recycle More. "If it's raw veg, it can be composted, and if the food has to go in the bin, recycle the packaging."

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