/ Food & Drink, Sustainability

Do you throw away food?

Food waste

Recent research has shown that household food waste has increased for the first time in a decade, meaning the food industry has failed to meet a commitment to cut it by 5% between 2012 and 2015.

I hate wasting food and will try really hard not to do it. I rarely pay attention to best before dates (if it looks and smells OK, I’ll eat it) and will cut away the mouldy bits on cheese, bread crusts and veg if I think the rest is still edible (once a student…)

I’ll even ask for a doggy bag if I can’t manage all my meal at a restaurant (much to the embarrassment of my co-diners).

But there are times when it’s unavoidable.

I usually come unstuck when I’ve got guests. I can’t very well expect them to eat food past its prime (especially if they’re accompanied by children), so will buy in fresh – and I’ll invariably overestimate.

For days after I’ll endeavour to use up the surplus. But even though I’m cutting away the bad bits, I can never seem to get through entire loaves of bread or packs of fruit and veg, and more often than not will have to admit defeat, consigning them to the food bin.

What a waste

After reading this week’s news that an estimated 7.3m tonnes of household food waste was thrown away in 2015 – up from 7m tonnes in 2012 – I’m feeling even more guilty about my excess.

To put it another way: that’s £13bn worth or £470 per average UK household.

And according to waste charity Wrap, which provided the figures, 4.4m tonnes was deemed to be ‘avoidable’ – compared with 4.2m tonnes in 2012.

Wrap, which is part funded by the government, also claimed that this generated 19m tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime. And preventing that pollution would be equivalent to taking one in four cars off UK roads.

Wales wastes less

The latest figures mean that the food industry has failed to meet a commitment to cut household food waste by 5% between 2012 and 2015.

However, some progress has been made on decreasing household food waste since Wrap started taking records ten years ago.

Between 2007 and 2012, total food waste fell by 15%, and avoidable food waste dropped by 21%, thanks to rising food prices, simplified best before date labels and campaigns to raise awareness.

Interestingly, Wales, where most councils provide homes with designated food waste bins, is outperforming the rest of the UK, with Welsh residents producing almost 10% less food waste per year than the average Brit.

Taking action

So what’s being done about this gain to the UK’s food mountain?

Well, for starters, in a scheme being coordinated by Wrap, from this year signs will be erected in major supermarket aisles reminding customers about sensible portion sizes and how to store food correctly.

The charity also hopes that personalised messaging through online shopping, loyalty card schemes or apps could also help customers identify beneficial changes totheir shopping habits.

Community member Jon Hartshorn’s idea that supermarkets should be obliged to stock smaller prepacked vegetables and fruit as he finds it difficult to find pack sizes that suit his requirements was one that particularly resonated with me.

What would you like to see be done to reduce the UK’s household food waste?


We have very little food waste. I was brought up to eat what I was given or go hungry, my mum wasted nothing and that has rubbed off on me.

Melanie, you might want to make more use of a freezer. Most food will freeze or can be cooked into something that can be frozen and made into something at a later date.

In all the years we have had food recycling, I haven’t used it once. Most of our food is either eaten or frozen.

Of the remainder, uncooked fruit and veg waste goes on the compost heap, and the wildlife appreciate any left over scraps.

I also ask for a doggy bag. Restaurants do tend to think you are actually going to give it to your dog and just chuck it in a container, so I ask for the doggy bag container to do it myself. Sometimes there is enough left for another meal, other times I might just save it for the wildlife.

Thanks for the links @mtrain, it is a brilliant way to make use of surplus food.

Labelling what goes in the freezer is a good habit to get into, sounds like you will have a few mystery meals. I have a couple of felt pens I bought from Betterware more than 20 years ago that write on freezer bags that are still invaluable. They might not get used very often, but it is amazing they still work after all this time.

Joey says:
14 April 2022

http://therealjunkfoodproject.org/ is scam

[Moderator: this website this could be a scam website. We’ve retained the URL to help you identify it, but we’ve redirected the link to our guidance on how to spot fraudulent website. ]

I get emails notifying me of food recalls often because a product contains unspecified ingredients.

I presume this food gets thrown away. What a waste !!!

Instead of clearing shelves and returning products, why on earth don’t supermarkets have a recall area where the products are sold cheaply. The problem can be highlighted and sold as “eaten at your own risk”. A great many people do not have allergies and intolerances to contend with and would really appreciate a few bargains.

Nestle had a recall of instant coffee after they introduced a new style of jars some years ago. Some customers had found broken glass in their coffee. They offered a full refund and reintroduced the old-style jar. I had about a dozen jars of Alta Rica so took a photo and put in a claim. Knowing that glass is quite dense and would settle to the bottom of the cup and be visible, I inspected the rim of the jars and used the coffee rather than waste it.

The Food Standards Agency provides allergy alerts: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/allergy-alerts-news I support what Alfa suggests about passing on food to those without allergies or intolerances. Waste not if you want not

I suspect regulations would prevent that, Alfa. For instance, our neighbours are all farmers and it’s interesting to know that they can’t even feed their own pigs with waste food – even food that’s been cooked by themselves and is simply surplus.

I suspect people are also still unable to work out the difference between ‘Best Before’ dates and the standard ‘Eat by’ date stamps, before which you should either eat or freeze.

We sometimes have roast chicken – the only ‘meat’ we eat besides fish – and any chicken left over is made into curry, with any remaining veg recycled into a soup. Even our 2016 Christmas dinner, which keen-eyed readers will remember was a bit of a disaster, owing to bloody chicken and uncooked beef, was completely recycled into curries. And we did enjoy a veggie Christmas dinner 🙂

I keep a mental note of what is in the fridge and very little gets wasted. If necessary I cook it and put it in the freezer. My main problem is with fruit spoiling, either before it is ripe or not long after purchase. I suspect rough handling in the supply chain may be a factor.

I would like to see an end to multi-buy promotions on fresh food because this is well known to promote wastage. Rather than buy-one-get-one-free, simply halve the price, which will both save waste and help the poor. Responsible supermarkets already do this.

The fruit/ veg spoiling situation is partly due to the exasperating supermarket practice of ‘bundling’ products together – it may suit families, but it’s terrible for single households. I’ve recently purchased an excellent Nutribullet machine, and consequently my fruit / veg consumption has gone up. But in order to eat fruit/veg in their prime, I freeze nearly all of them first. Blueberries – even spinach – freeze beautifully (washed first). I also freeze portions of melon and kiwi fruit! Even grapes are freezable. I slice and freeze lemon portions , often having zested them first. I freeze the zest for use later. Not sure what to do about bananas though, apart from keeping them away from other fruit and not over-buying in the first place.

Key points:
– The estimated amount of HHFW in the UK for 2015 was 7.3 million tonnes.
– Overall there has been no statistically significant change in the estimated levels of HHFW between 2012 and 2015.

No statistical significant change! Personally I think we probably have increased population by at least 1 million so perhaps we need to consider the validity of the estimate and consequent headlines.

HHFW – Household Food Waste?



” HHFW in the UK was 960,000 tonnes lower in 2015 compared to 2007, which equates to a 12% reduction. Avoidable HHFW levels were 17% lower in 2015 compared to 2007, equivalent to £2.7 billion less food being wasted in 2015 compared to 2007
#12. ”

UK population has increased by 4 million since 2006 so wasted food per head is possibly declining. However if one wishes to use overall figures without reference to population I am sure when our population reaches 70m the problem will apparently still be as bad.

The population data is here.

A definition of what comprises HHFW would be helpful:
” Glossary
Avoidability of food waste a classification of the extent to which household food and drink waste could have been avoided.

Avoidable –
food and drink thrown away because it is no longer wanted or has been allowed to go past its best. The vast majority of avoidable food is composed of material that was, at
some point prior to disposal, edible, even though a proportion is not edible at the time of disposal due to deterioration (e.g. gone mouldy). In contrast to ‘possibly avoidable’ (see below), the category of ‘avoidable’ includes foods or parts of food that are considered edible by the vast majority of people.

Possibly avoidable –
food and drink that some people eat and others do not (e.g. bread crusts and potato skins). As with ‘avoidable’ waste, ‘possibly avoidable’ waste is composed of material that was, at some point prior to disposal, edible.

Unavoidable –
waste arising from food and drink preparation that is not, and has not been, edible under normal circumstances. This includes egg shells, pineapple skin, apple cores, meat bones, tea bags, and coffee grounds.

HHFW: Household food waste
Synthesis report: Synthesis of Food Waste Compositional Data 2014 & 2015, published by WRAP alongside this report in 2017.

Ian has mentioned the idiocy of the ban on feeding food scraps to pigs etc which in itself would pretty much solve a lot of the problem.

So why was this historic practice stopped?

“While swill-feeding was banned across the EU in 2002 following the foot-and-mouth outbreak – triggered by a UK farmer illegally feeding uncooked food waste to pigs – other countries, such as Japan, responded by creating a highly regulated system for safely recycling heat-treated food waste as animal feed.
Researchers describe the EU ban as a “knee-jerk reaction” that no longer makes sense when East Asian countries have demonstrated that food waste can be safely recycled. The models in the latest study show that pigswill reintroduction would not only decrease the amount of land the EU pork industry requires by 21.5%, but also cut in half the ever-increasing feed costs faced by European pig farmers.”

I s Which? about to campaign for reversing the EU ban!!!!

If there’s one thing that demonstrates the idiocy of the thumbs system, it’s that someone gave a ‘thumbs down’ when I queried what HHFW meant. Since it should mean they don’t agree, perhaps they’ll have the courage (which I doubt) or the manners to explain why they gave it.

This is a system we need to remove. At its best it does nothing constructive for the debate while at its worst it encourages the cowards. One alternative is to replace the thumb graphics with actual words: agree / don’t agree, but overall if people can’t express themselves with words perhaps they shouldn’t even be here.

On some sites hovering over the thumbs shows the people who haved voted.

There do seem to be some regular spates of thumbs down for no apparent reason. Perhaps you should only be able to agree/disagree if you are logged in.

I can’t get excited about thumbs. I tend to use them to encourage new or infrequent contributors and to mark down rude comments that do not warrant reporting. I know one site that got rid of the negative ones.

The Moderators / admins can see who’s used them, but if they’re going to keep the things then it should be possible for everyone to see. Personally, however, I feel they serve no purpose whatsoever and in many cases they’re simply being used to intimidate.

It is great to see so many comments after my post on using pigs as an answer to the problem of waste food disposal.

One area where there is always far too much food waste is buffets.

People who fill their plates and only eat half of it really annoys me especially when they get in first, take all the best stuff then leave it on their plates.

We visited a Chinese that had an all-you-can-eat cooked-to-order menu. They were more than happy to serve us half portions that meant we could have double the selection we would normally order.

Buffets are inherently wasteful. But I suspect there’s also a psychological issue, with hosts and hostesses seemingly pathologically terrified that the guests will leave hungry. “Are you sure you’ve had enough?” is a refrain I seem to have heard most of my life.

An hotel we visit occasionally has a wonderful Sunday help-yourself lunch. Turkey, lamb, pork, beef roasts. Coincidentally – (!) – they have a well-attended curry night two days later with a help yourself “buffet” including lamb, pork, beef. They also do turkey sandwiches for lunch. Most of these establishments are likely to have a minimal waste plan to ensure they do not also waste profit. What generally goes to waste are the vegetables left on peoples’ plates and tables.

We do not like to see guests (which includes family) go home hungry. We also like to ensure they have food they like. So when we have a gathering – picnic or a buffet – there is generally excess food. I make no apologies for that. However it usually gets consumed the following day or two.

If we wanted to reduce food “waste” we could consider, as Ian says, those who simply eat to excess. But how do you control consumption? Rationing did that during and after the war but i doubt any one would want to return to those days even though people were generally fit and well.

We had a Sunday Roast Dinner in a pub today where the whole meal was plated up and served to the table. I rarely leave anything uneaten but this meal defeated even me and I had to leave some roast potatoes and some broccoli. We had no room for puddings.

Just in case rationing makes a come-back I have not discarded our family copy of the Daily Express Wartime Cookbook which told people how to make the ration go round. It is frequently asserted that the population were healthier during rationing than at any time before or since.

When I have a buffet meal I might overfill my plate but every thing I put on it gets eaten I leave nothing at Thats the thing I was brought up to do WASTE NOT WANT NOT a old saying a true one too

I wonder if one reason why rationing might have improved health was because sugar was possibly one of the most heavily rationed?

Quite likely.

With less processed food around and more meals cooked from scratch, food in the rationing era would also not have contained all the chemicals and dubious additives that we are now accustomed to.

Would roast chicken have contained these ingredients as sold by Waitrose:
British Chicken Breast, Salt, Wheat Dextrose, Stabilisers Di-, Tri- and Polyphosphates, Antioxidant Sodium Ascorbate

Or Sliced Roast Turkey from Tesco:
Turkey Breast Fillet with Skin (96%), Salt, Modified Potato Starch, Dried Glucose Syrup, Turkey Protein, Dextrose, Flavourings, Yeast Extract, Stabilisers: Sodium Citrates, Triphosphates, Antioxidant: Sodium Ascorbate, Acidity Regulator: Sodium Lactate, Preservative: Sodium Nitrite

I am surprised that the Waitrose roast chicken contains no preservative. 🙁 Including dextrose (glucose) is a good way to promote growth of bacteria.

I have just checked and no other ingredients are listed.

I think it was Sainsbury’s who added milk to a lot of raw chicken. I’ve just checked a few chicken products on their website but they are not listing any ingredients. Hmm.

During the first half of the twentieth century many people kept chickens in their back gardens or yards, first for eggs and ultimately for the table. This also dealt with any left-over food. The hens’ diet might not have been wonderful but corn was cheap, plentiful and not rationed so that was the basic chicken feed and there would have been no extraneous additives.

Not all cooked chicken does contain preservatives. Many products including cooked meat are packaged in a ‘protective atmosphere’ to slow down growth of bacteria. This contains nitrogen or carbon dioxide and no oxygen. Carbon monoxide can be included to delay browning of fresh meat.

I wonder why the manufacturers of processed foods feel the need to include sugar in their recipes. I often make homemade soup and never think about adding sugar.

As well as the food industry (we are always blaming manufacturers, the industry – anyone but ourselves) it is those who buy food who also waste it. Probably a sign of greater affluence where you can keep a choice of foods. It is probably easier to get your food purchase about right when you live on your own, but in family households with visitors it is not so easy. Shopping once a week doesn’t help either; in the days my Mum used to shop every couple of days from the local shops – no fridge – she could buy just what she needed day to day.

Ah – the good old days, when no one could afford a ‘fridge, antibiotics had only just been invented and Which? was asking what was wrong with crystal radios.

But manufacturers could do more to prevent food waste, as could those who traditionally eat too much. Hands up if you’re overweight…

When I was a child we had a meat safe in the large walk-in pantry adjoining the kitchen. I only remember it because it was used for storage in the garden shed for many years, after we became owners of an English Electric refrigerator. That was several years before we had a television set capable of receiving the single programme available in glorious black & white.

My mother visited the local shops frequently, though a lot of the vegetables came from my father’s garden. Nowadays the supermarkets sell ‘perfectly imperfect’ and ‘wonky veg’ but in these days it was normal. I wonder how much cosmetically imperfect food is wasted because people are reluctant to buy it.

Living on your own is a nightmare. Almost everything is packed for 2 or 4 people or if available for 1 twice the price.

On Saturday I picked up a bound copy of the 1950 Good Housekeeping magazines for that year. What caught my attention was a reference to a Mass Observation Unit survey for the magazine and also an article on freezers which were a new coming technology.

Written in an adult style I will enjoy seeing what advice was given. The adverts are of course great fun.

The Mass Observation survey in the January copy is lengthy and puts to shame what we now see in magazines. Apparently 80% felt rationing should remain. Chinese food receives a mention and so does Continental cooking. The selection of respondents is middle class housewives in families with an income of between £400 to £1000.

The survey continues in February.

We now live in throw away age ! That includes every thing imaginable Food is readily available During the war food was scarce and people had to make the best of what they could get nothing at all was wasted Food that might be going bad had to be used any ways were found to make use of it People brought not to waste or throw away still do I cannot remember the last time I had to throw any food away I use all I buy even ignoring use by dates Food still can be used in some way after that date without any ill effects Many people with too much money not a lot of sense is one reason things are thrown away

One way of prolonging the life of food is to make sure that fridges are operating at the correct temperature. Some models have a conspicuous temperature gauge but others do not, relying on the user to make use of a fridge thermometer. I do not understand why there is no requirement to have a temperature gauge in domestic fridges because it is a safety issue.

Bring back food rationing ?

In the last couple of years I have often watched store assistants in Tesco clear shelves of bread etc, putting it in pink plastic bags, often early in the evening. Sometimes there is no wholemeal bread on the shelves because it has all been removed, which I find rather frustrating.

I usually have a look at what is on offer on the ‘reduced price’ shelf to stock up the freezer or use promptly. I was looking at a large pile of packets of smoked salmon with the following day as use-by date when an assistant arrived and put them all in a box and then proceeded to do the same with other products on the shelf. I picked a pack from the box and put it in my trolley.

I do hope the food goes to charity and is not wasted.

There is a new company launched in 2015 who are in receipt of supermarket edible waste. Check out their website @

fareshare.org.uk – Fighting Hunger – Tackling Food Waste.

Edit – apologies for incorrect address – amended fairshare to fareshare.org.uk

Tesco use Fairshare for collection of non-perishable goods but I don’t know if the same company collects surplus food that has reached its ‘use by’ date.

Apologies – Correction: fairshare.org.uk.
Should read: fareshare .org.uk

I had not realised but went to the right website. 🙂 I find it disappointing that the FareShare has four employees receiving over £60k, according to their accounts. I wonder if their jobs could be done efficiently by recently retired people at no cost, making more money available for their charitable work.

Patrick Taylor says:
17 January 2017

Which? then with 107 earning over £60K will be a bigger disappointment so just under 20% of all staff earn over £60k.

I am actually prepared to defend some pay but I have great trouble when they exceed £120,000 of which there are 16 staff.

Maximum pay just under £0.5m in the last Accounts but that means 4 over £370K. Last years big payout were 4 got over £0.5m with top whack at over £690k.

People wonder why I am concerned! It is a charity and this simply does not look good.

These salaries seem high but I suppose it depends where the company is based but there again maybe somebody should explain “waste not want not” & “make do & mend”. They could of course put a sweater on & turn the CH down 3 degrees.

Patrick Taylor says:
17 January 2017

The Dutch equivalent to Which’?, that has around 400,000 members, proportionally higher than Which? per population pays its staff sufficiently more sensible money – around £150,000 a year for their CEO.

Admittedly they have not lost £14.94 m in India, nor accumulated losses of around £21m as Which? Financial Services has. But then their governance is much better arranged.
with a membership body of around 40 elected who prevent wild flights of fancy courtesy of our subscriptions.

Alison says:
21 January 2017

I wish supermarkets (and takeaways!) would start to realise that many people live on their own. All the special offers are for buying several items. Quite often it’s cheaper to buy 3 of something than it is to buy 1, but I end up throwing most away.

David says:
22 January 2017

Just double the cost of food. OR introduce food rationing This should also reduce obesity!

I am not so sure, David. A lot of the people who would fit in the ‘obese’ category are snacking on fairly expensive foodstuffs and drinks – even while they’re shopping!

Ron Glatter says:
22 January 2017

Storage advice on perishable food needs to be improved. One example is pre-packed cheese. Most supermarkets give absurd advice on the pack, often urging customers to consume the whole block of cheese in 2 or 3 days once it has been opened, and never in more than 7 days. An exception is Sainsbury’s, which does not give a time limit but offers a few lines of sensible advice about how to store the cheese to keep it fresh. This approach needs to be much more widely adopted.

I’ve just checked our M&S prepacked Cheddar and it has a best consumed in 7 days after opening, and store in a fridge. That seems reasonable advice, but we should use our eyes and common sense – we did that in the days before pre-pack and best before dates, and still should when we buy loose cheese.

I think the way a lot of cheese is packed nowadays makes it very unappealing and not convenient for cutting into larger slices for a sandwich. Presumably because the cutting and packing process is highly automated the cheese is cut into thin slabs rather than regular blocks or wedges. You have to cut several narrow slices before it is possible without a professional cheese-wire cutter to cut a suitable slice to fit neatly onto a slice of bread or a roll. The slabs are also too wide for using a cheese-slicing tool except on the narrow sides.

It is better to get cheese from the Deli counter than to pick up a pack from the chiller cabinets. I don’t think the vacuum packing does much for the flavour of cheese so it is best to open it before putting it in the fridge and re-wrap it in kitchen foil [rather than cling film]. It is also best kept in a plastic box in the fridge so it doesn’t get too cold. Cheese will generally survive quite a long time if stored at the right temperature; if any mould develops it can be cut off and the remainder will still taste alright. It will only last so long, though, before it starts to walk out of the fridge on its own!

Wasting cheese is expensive so it is best not to buy too much. We like to have a choice of cheeses available but even so we hardly ever waste any.

I have noticed that a lot of cheese is now described as ‘Cave Aged’ – presumably to justify a premium price. I am not convinced it is any better than other cheese of the same quality.

Thank goodness for trivial anxieties – the essence of consumerism!

Ron Glatter says:
23 January 2017

Thanks for the interesting comments. By the way I don’t think it’s trivial. It’s an example of a wider trend to give excessively prescriptive and specific advice in terms of “Once opened, consume within X days”. This clearly encourages food waste – and hence more frequent sales! The more detailed advice on storage given by Sainsbury’s (see my comment above) could no doubt be improved but it seems a much sounder approach. I would like Which to take this issue up and promote that kind of general approach in strong preference to the present one.

Agreed Ron. I only meant “trivial” in the sense of my worries over the width of a cheese portion.

The Sainsbury’s approach with cheese is more realistic and no less safe. Because of over-cautious dating many people no longer trust ‘eat by’ timescales and assume there are a couple of extra days available; if that became the prevailing attitude across a wide range of foodstuffs it could be harmful, so the right guidance for the right product is the key.


Just so people can appreciate the way the food market works. BTW Archer Daniels Midland is mentioned in Wikipedia and provides an interesting insight into the subsudused US food production etc.