Food waste is a growing scandal, but it is something we can take action on

Opinion: Throwing out food on safety grounds may not always be the best idea

Post-BSE in 1996 and foot and mouth in 2001 the practice of feeding waste food to animals was outlawed.

Post-BSE in 1996 and foot and mouth in 2001 the practice of feeding waste food to animals was outlawed.


We waste an awful lot of food. Why is that? While our lives become ever more streamlined and technologically efficient, we bin tonnes of food and the worst thing is that much of it is edible. And, in Ireland, it appears we are one of the worst offenders.

According to research the average family in Ireland throws out €700 of food every year, some as much as €1,000. And 60 per cent of what is binned is edible. Apples, bread, potatoes, salad, meat, fish and dairy, spreads and dips feature among the foods most often thrown away. The reasons for the waste could be that food was left on plates (the portions were too big); that it stayed in the cooking pot (no one needed second helpings); or that it had passed its sell-by date, was mouldy or looked, smelled or tasted bad.

Most of the food that is dumped goes to landfill. Remember the days of pigswill? At least that made our pigs happy. Now we don’t even do that. Post-BSE in 1996 and foot-and-mouth in 2001, the practice of feeding waste food to animals was outlawed. Now we feed our pigs soy-based products. In the United Kingdom, The Pig Idea is committed not just to bringing back the use of swill, albeit with safety parameters in place, but to using waste like spent hops, whey and surplus bread.

Use your nose
That edible food ever becomes waste seems wrong on so many levels and it’s hard not see lack of knowledge and force of habit playing a huge role. How do you know food is not edible? It’s not the date on the packet (although this can be a useful guide) but your eyes and nose that will tell you. Have we forgotten that one of the most complicated and sophisticated pieces of machinery given to man exists for us all to use. It’s right between our eyes. Yet we choose to ignore it. At least many of us do.

Food safety is not a reason for binning our food, though it is cited by many. Salmonella and E.coli don’t suddenly appear in food as it reaches its sell-by date.

In September, Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward launched Foodcloud in response to their concern that in Ireland over 600,000 people, many of them children, suffer from food poverty. They are focusing on inner-city Dublin but have plans to expand their project to the greater Dublin area and then countrywide.

Their idea is simple, food wasters meet charities who feed people via an app. A text message follows and the link is made. So far they have 20 registered food companies and 40 charities, but, as O’Brien says, “We are keen to hear from any food business that has waste and likewise any charity that has a need for food. If we can make a link, there is a win on all fronts.”

O’Brien is quick to point out that detailed knowledge of food waste is scarce. A lot of the information comes from European , but there is little detail, which makes monitoring of waste and any improvements difficult.

Market waste
Fruit and vegetables are still traded in markets such as Smithfield in Dublin. Trawl the stalls at the end of trading and you’ll find an awful lot of perfectly good oranges and bananas . It was this waste that caught the eye of Jenny Dawson on a visit to New Covent Garden in London.

Rubies in the Rubble is a company making chutneys and preserves. Dawson set it up because she thought it was wrong that all that food was being thrown away. Now she makes jams and chutneys, employing people trying to get back into the workplace.

In a world where western countries produce up to 300 per cent more food than they need and one billion people suffer from malnutrition something needs to change.

Hugo Arnold is an independent food writer and consultant

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