When clearing out the fridge, deciding what’s safe to eat and what may harm is not always easy. We may want to up our leftovers but we don’t want to risk a bout of food poisoning in the process.
That’s why at the Merstham community café we hope to create a space where local people can learn how to cut down on food waste without taking risks. We believe that by teaching people how to store food correctly, how to cook creative meals from leftovers and how to discern what’s safe and what’s not, we can reduce food waste in our community and save families money in the process.
We know there’s a need for this. A report on food waste just published by the Women’s Institute (WI) shows how confusion surrounds issues such as date labelling on food. Less than half of respondents to a survey of 5,000 people knew that the ’best before’ date refers to the quality (not safety) of the food and that food past this date may still be fine to eat. However, 26 per cent of respondents were not aware that the ‘use-by’ date is a marker of food safety meaning food should not be eaten past this date.
Helping people to understand labelling can make a big difference to what gets thrown away and to people’s pockets. Yet labels themselves can be contradictory. The WI report suggests that instructions on how long the same type of food can be kept once opened varies between brands.
It also calls for supermarkets to sell perishable food like salad in smaller portions, to scale back on multibuy offers that encourage people to buy more than they can eat and to enable people to buy imperfect-looking fruit and vegetables via ‘wonky-veg’ sections.
To help reduce the 7 million tonnes plus of food that is thrown away each year, we need supermarkets to make changes to the way food is sold and packaged. It’s great that organisations such as the Women’s Institute and the Real Junk Food Project are calling attention to problems at national level.
Meanwhile, in Merstham, we hope to play our part in helping people to understand how to buy, cook and store food. We hope that by hosting workshops with a range of food experts from chefs to nutritionists and beyond, we can teach people how to decode labels, make savvy purchases and know when it’s best to use their own senses.
Of course, for anyone who’s not in the mood for cooking, there’ll be the opportunity to pay what you feel for a delicious meal concocted from whatever we’ve been donated by local supermarkets that day – wonky veg ‘n’ all!