Not only is food waste a huge environmental issue, but it also costs consumers financially too. Which? is sharing simple tips to follow which could help you waste less food and money.
Climate action charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that UK consumers throw out around a sixth of the food they buy. This amounts to 4.5 million tonnes of edible food waste annually, costing each of us £210 a year on average.
1. Try frozen instead of fresh
Buying frozen foods is an easy way to minimise waste and save money. New Which? research captured the prices of own-brand fresh and frozen products across nine major supermarkets, and in most cases the frozen versions were cheaper than fresh foods.
The consumer champion calculated the price per 100 grams for each item and used those figures to determine a price range of what you could expect to pay for the fresh version of the product compared to the frozen version. For example, frozen raspberries were between 42p and £1.07 per 100g, significantly cheaper than fresh raspberries which ranged from £1.26 to £1.80 per 100g.
The additional benefit of frozen food is that you only use what you need – the remainder can be stored in the freezer for next time. This significantly reduces the risk of throwing away food, and saves you money in the long term. Freezing can also extend the lifespan of fresh foods, such as milk, bread, eggs and cheese.
2. Use common sense with best-before dates
Use-by and best-before dates often get confused, but they’re not the same thing. Best-before dates refer to quality and are typically found on bread, frozen, tinned and dried foods. The food will be at its ‘best’ before this date, but is still safe to eat after the date has passed.
In recent years, many supermarkets have actually removed best-before dates from fruit and vegetables and improved packaging information, in an attempt to reduce food waste. Use by dates on milk and cheese have been changed to best before dates.
These products can still be safe to consume if past their best – a sniff test is sufficient for milk, or look for signs of mould or curdling.
Common sense should also be used for fruit and vegetables. Anything that is smelly, mouldy or slimy should be avoided.
3. Pay attention to use-by dates
Use-by dates relate to safety – a product is safe to eat up until the date given, beyond that there is a risk of food poisoning. These dates are found on highly perishable foods such as raw and cooked meat and fish, bagged salads, and dips such as houmous.
But for most products with a use-by date, you do need to be cautious. Eating foods that are outside of their use-by date can mean ingesting harmful bacteria and developing food poisoning.
Shoppers should keep an eye on use-by dates, and only buy products that they know they can consume in the timeframe given. Anything that won’t be used in time can be frozen before the use by date.
4. Keep fruit and veg in the fridge
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has recently changed its advice for storing potatoes, until now the official advice has been to store your potatoes in a cool, dark cupboard and not in the fridge.
While it was previously considered dangerous to store them in the fridge, new research has found that this isn’t the case – and storing in the fridge actually increases the shelf life as well.
The same applies to other fruits and vegetables. Research from the WRAP looked at the impact on the shelf life of keeping fruit and veg in the fridge versus storing them in a fruit bowl or larder, and found the former preserves them for longer.
They uncovered that apples that have been refrigerated last between 69 and 77 days longer (depending on whether they were packaged or not). Broccoli also lasted significantly longer in the fridge than out.
5. Check the ‘reduced’ aisle in supermarkets
Most supermarkets have a ‘reduced’ aisle or area of the shop with items reduced that day. These are items, often adorned with yellow stickers, that have been discounted due to imminent use-by dates or minor damage.
If you don’t regularly pick things up from here, this tip could definitely save you money. Only buy products that you know you will eat soon, or that you can freeze to eat later.
6. Make salad items last longer
Bagged spinach and salad leaves have a short shelf life and are one of the most wasted foods.
Which? members reported extending the life of bagged salads by adding a sheet of kitchen roll to the bag once it’s opened and sealing it with a clip. This helps to absorb excess moisture.
Alternatively, remove leaves from the bag, dry them and transfer them to an airtight container lined with kitchen roll.
Reena Sewraz, Which? Money Expert, said:
“No one wants to waste food and money, especially with the cost of living crisis putting huge pressure on household budgets and food waste having such a big environmental impact.
“Those prepared to opt for frozen foods in the supermarket will likely find some great value alternatives to fresh foods.
“Pay attention to use-by and best before dates and take advantage of fresh foods that can be frozen to avoid wasting food.”
Notes to editors
Over the coming months, Which? will be highlighting free and useful money-saving advice every Monday to help consumers manage the ongoing cost of living crisis. The series will cover a range of topics, from how to save money on household bills, to childcare and travel.
The Which? My Money Health Check is a free tool for anybody looking for ways to help them save money during the cost of living crisis.
The Which? Money Podcast offers weekly advice to help you get on top of your bills and tackles the issues hitting your pocket – from spiralling energy costs to your weekly food shop.
Which? captured the prices of own brand fresh and frozen products across eight food categories. Prices were taken from Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado (including M&S own label) and Waitrose across a week-long period in February 2023. Frozen products tend to weigh more than fresh or thawed variants due to their water content. Read more in can switching to frozen food save you money?
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