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How to Tackle Food Waste: The Myths

This article explores in detail some of the myths about food waste and suggests ways to tackle waste at home.
Fact and Fiction intersecting and spelled out in scrabble letters

1. Which type of food do we throw away most often?

Answer: Fruit and vegetables, plus roots and tubers (like potatoes) have the highest wastage rates of any food. Nearly half of all fruit and vegetables produced globally are wasted each year.

There’s lots you can do to make them last longer.

  • Store potatoes in a cool, dry and dark place, ideally in a cloth bag. If they’ve been around a while, you can boil them up and freeze in portions. Then you can roast them straight from the freezer, just pop them in the oven with a little oil to crisp up.
  • Keep your bananas somewhere nice and cool, in a cupboard or on a work surface. They can go brown quite quickly so if you see them start to become speckled, peel and freeze them to use later. Peeled bananas wrapped in tin foil and frozen make healthy snacks that taste like ice cream!
  • Always store your apples in the fridge – it keeps them fresh and crisp for longer than leaving them out in a fruit bowl.

Bananas, apples and tomatoes produce ethylene as they ripen which speeds up the ripening of any other fruits and vegetables nearby. So avoid accidentally accelerating the ripening of fresh produce you want to keep for longer by storing them separately.

This resource from Too Good To Go summarises how much of each type of food is wasted.

2. Where should you store bread?

Answer: The best place to store bread is in a cool and dry place. Bread stored in the fridge will go stale faster.

Bread and baked goods should be stored in a cupboard or bread bin. The conditions need to be just right because it goes stale and hard if it dries out, but mouldy if the air can’t circulate and moisture builds up. Sliced bread is more prone to mould as it grows best on the cut surfaces. Crumbs lying around in the bread bin also promote mould growth. Remove them every few days and wipe the bin with vinegar water. You can freeze all varieties of bread. To make it easier, slice the bread first so you can toast it straight from the freezer.

3. Which is the coldest part of the fridge?

Answer: The shelf above the vegetable compartment is usually the coldest area of a fridge at around 2°C. From there it becomes increasingly warmer as you go upwards. The compartments in the fridge door are the warmest at 9-10°C.

Most fresh foods such as dairy products, meat and fish, as well as many fruit and vegetables, belong straight in the fridge after shopping. The FiFo principle (first in, first out) helps to keep track of what’s fresh and what’s not: new goods at the back, older goods at the front.

Ensure your fridge is set to below 5°C. Here are some tips to help keep your fridge below 5°C:

  • Keep the door open for the shortest possible time. The temperature inside a fridge rises significantly each time the door is opened and can take hours to cool down again.
  • Use a thermometer: battery operated thermometers with clear digital displays are widely available. Try leaving it in different sections so you can keep track of the variations in temperature on different shelves and in door compartments.
  • Don’t put hot food straight in the fridge as it will heat everything up: cool cooked food at room temperature and place in the fridge within one to two hours.
  • Store food in the right areas: ready to eat food on the top and middle shelves; raw meat, poultry and fish at the bottom; salad, vegetables and fruits in the salad drawers.

4. Which food, when wasted, represents the biggest waste of energy?

Answer: It takes about 25 times more energy to produce a calorie of beef than to produce one calorie of corn for people to eat. Animal proteins tend to require more energy – and land and water – to produce than plant proteins.

The global food production system is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Meat and other animal products are responsible for more than half of those emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink. Water use, land use and greenhouse gas emissions are typically higher per unit of edible beef product than for any other animal-derived product. So if you consume beef, you should really make the most of it and avoid wasting any. There’s an opportunity to find out about ‘nose to tail’ cooking which makes use of over-looked meat cuts such as offal and tongue with some delicious recipes later in the course.

Take some time today to calculate your diet’s carbon footprint using this calculator from the BBC.

5. At special occasions, such as Christmas, we usually prepare a big buffet. How many grams of food (per person) should you expect to be presented with at such a buffet?

Answer: An average of 800g of ready-made meals should be planned for each person.

It’s important to calculate the right portions when entertaining as the amount and quality of the food represents a significant loss of everyone’s investment if it’s wasted. But it’s important for everyday meals too. Take a look at Love Food Hate Waste’s Portion Planner. It’s a simple tool where you choose a food type and the number of people you are cooking for and it calculates the portions for you.

Making it even easier, this infographic from EUFIC shows how to measure portion sizes with your hands.

6. What’s the difference between the ‘best before’ date and the ‘use by’ date?

Answer: ‘Use by’ means that the food may be unsafe to eat after this date so it’s to be understood as the throw-away date. ‘Best before’ indicates that the taste or texture may not be the same after the date, but it’s still edible.

Up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste generated annually in the EU are linked to date marking, so understanding them is vital and helps us make smart food purchases as well as wasting less.

The ‘best before’ date is the manufacturer’s guarantee that the quality of the product, such as colour, smell and taste, will be retained up until this date if stored correctly. After the ‘best before’ date has expired, you don’t have to throw the product away. Instead, trust your own senses and check whether the food is still good enough to eat.

On the other hand, the ‘use by’ date is the manufacturer’s guarantee of the safety of the product (if stored correctly). It’s the date by which the product should be consumed. It’s printed on perishable foods and after this date you should dispose of the goods. You’ll find out more about how to make use of these tools in the next Step.

Which of these tips will help you waste less food at home? Do you have tips of your own?


Eshel G, Shepon A, Makov T, Milo R. Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(33):11996-12001. doi:10.1073/pnas.1402183111

Pierre J. Gerber, Anne Mottet, Carolyn I. Opio, Alessandra Falcucci, Félix Teillard, Environmental impacts of beef production: Review of challenges and perspectives for durability, Meat Science, Volume 109, 2015,Pages 2-12.

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From Waste to Value: How to Tackle Food Waste

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