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Responsible Consumers

Panic buying behaviour may result in increased food prices, overconsumption of food, and food waste. It is estimated that the EU generates 88 million tonnes of food waste annually, with associated costs of over 100 billion euros.

Avoiding panic buying, and purchasing only what we need, can help us reduce food waste. Additionally, taking steps to reduce waste is not only good for society and the environment, but it is also economical. Food costs money, and every bit of spoiled or unused food thrown in the bin costs us as consumers.

In this article, we will explore three steps we can take to become more responsible consumers. We will describe why they are important and provide practical guidance.

  1. Using food we already have
  2. Planning meals we will make
  3. Buying food we will use

1. Using food we already have

Taking stock of what we already have in our fridges and cupboards can reduce the number of items we throw out every week. First, we need to consider perishable vs non-perishable items.

  • Non-perishable items are those that have a long shelf life and do not need to be kept in the fridge. Non-perishable foods include dry foods like pasta and rice, and canned items such as soup, fruit and veg, and meats. We do not need to worry about using up our non-perishable items quickly, but we do need to be strategic in using our perishable foods.

  • Perishable foods have a limited shelf life and, while refrigeration will help extend shelf life, they will begin to decay or die. Dairy products, raw fruits and vegetables, and fresh poultry and fish are all perishable items that are only fresh for a limited time.

Best before and expiration dates help dictate when we should eat foods. Best before dates indicate quality, meaning that it is not necessarily unsafe to eat after this date, but texture and flavour may be lost. Expiration dates, however, indicate the date by which food should be consumed, and some may be harmful to eat past this date.

When you are putting your food shopping away, take note of the expiration or best before dates. This will help you in determining when each item should be used throughout the week; to ensure you use up everything you buy.

For example, you can use the template provided (template 1) for taking note of expiration/best before dates, and planning when you will use foods.

2. Planning meals we will make

Planning when we are eating, preparing, or cooking with certain foods can ensure we use up everything in our fridges and cupboards. After taking stock of what foods we have, as in step one, we can then plan meals and recipes around what we have. Be strategic with expiration and best before dates, the items with a shorter shelf life should be used up at the beginning of the week, and those with a longer shelf life can be pushed to the end of the week. You can use recipes to guide this process, thinking through everything that you will need to make a particular dish. If you are missing any ingredients for a meal, you can add these to a “what I need” list, which will help you in writing your shopping list.

You can use the template provided (template 2) to plan your meals for the week, noting what you already have and what you will need.

3. Buying food we will use

Panic buying during a crisis may result in unequal distribution of food. We need to make sure we buy only what we need, and leave enough for everyone else. Following the first two steps will help to identify what we will eat, when we will eat it, and what else we need to buy. Adding these foods to a shopping list, which can then be brought with us when we shop, will help us focus on buying only the food we need. Making a comprehensive shopping list, and ensuring you stick to it when you shop, can also help ensure that you stay within your food budget when shopping.

You can use the template provided (template 3) to list the items you intend to buy when food shopping.

To summarise, we can each play our part in becoming responsible consumers by: using food we already have, planning what meals we will make, and buying food that we will use. These approaches will help ensure we feel secure with our household food supply, make sure we get the most out of the foods we buy, and will help us economically, by reducing waste and ensuring we stick to our food budget.

What we would like you to do

Please share your thoughts on the article on the comments section below:

  • Do you find it difficult to make the use of food in your cupboard?
  • Do you do your best to prevent food waste?
  • Do you practice any of the three steps named above? Why/Why not?
  • Will you put these tips into practice?

We have included a ‘Fridge Challenge’ in the ‘Downloads’ section below. Why not give it a try to practise using the templates provided and becoming a responsible consumer. Let us know how you get on.

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Food Supply Chains in a Time of Crisis

EIT Food