Top Ten Ways to Reduce Food Waste 

by Dr. Sarah Nyrose BSc ND

“58% of all food produced in Canada is lost or wasted; 32% of this lost and wasted food could be rescued to support communities across Canada.”

These are difficult statistics to swallow, given that 4 million Canadians currently struggle to access healthy food, and that food waste accounts for 56.6% of the food industry’s carbon footprint. In the article Waste Not: the Unspoken Problem of Food Waste, the gravity of this issue is explored, outlining the various factors that contribute to food waste at the industry and household level.

At the core of this issue is our perception and value of food. We live in a country with an abundance of food, which has allowed us to diminish its value and create a culture that accepts food waste.

As the authors of, “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste: Roadmap” stated, “We need to radically change the way we value food.” This needs to happen at each stage of the value change, including with the consumer.

Here are our top ten ways YOU can contribute to reducing food waste.

1. Plan your meals.

When you have a clear idea of what meals you are going to make and the required ingredients, this reduces the chances of having unused food. Only purchase the food you need for your planned meals. Store discounts or “2 for 1” deals can be tempting, but can also leave you with more food than you will eat. If you do buy more food in bulk, chop it, freeze it and save it for another day. 

2. Organize your Fridge.

All too often food gets shoved to the back of our fridge and forgotten. It’s not until we discover a furry resemblance of a cauliflower or a soggy head of spinach that we remember we had unused food we intended to eat. One trick is to organize your fridge to make perishable foods visible. Have a basket or drawer that contains your “older” vegetables and fruits, which are more prone to spoilage. Keep the older food at the front of the fridge, and the new food at the back of the fridge. This ensures that you use the older food first.

3. Freeze Food.

Freezing food is one of the best ways to preserve excess fruit, vegetables or meat. It allows you to buy food in bulk and to save it for another day. Make sure to label the bag, and keep an inventory of what you have in the freezer.

“Best before” is often misinterpreted as “bad after”. The official definition of “best before” is the date in which peak freshness, taste and nutritional value will end.

4. Understand the Difference between “Best Before” and “Expiry” dates.

As explored in the Waste Not: the Unspoken Problem of Food Waste article, there is widespread confusion regarding the terms “best before” vs. “expiry date”. There are only a handful of products in Canada that require expiry dates (nutritional supplements, meal replacements, baby formula, pharmacist-sold foods for low energy diets, formulated liquid diets), while the rest of pre-packaged foods will be labelled with a “best before” date. “Best before” is often misinterpreted as “bad after”. The official definition of “best before” is the date in which peak freshness, taste and nutritional value will end. It is not the same as an expiry or “bad after” date, but rather reflects the timeframe in which the food will be of the highest quality.2 Throwing food out solely based on the “best before” date is a common practice, but misguided. Food should be assessed for signs of spoilage (smell, mould, etc.) rather than relying on a date for “peak freshness”. 

As consumers we can also encourage grocery stores to reduce the prices of food nearing the best before dates, rather than tossing them. This would significantly reduce the amount of edible food that is wasted at the retail level. 

5. Buy the Funny Looking Produce .

The ill-shaped carrots, bruised apples, or wonky tomatoes are always the produce consumers avoid. Our predilection for “perfect” food results in the funny looking fruits and vegetables being tossed. Next time you’re at the grocery store, buy the funny looking produce. As consumers, we can send a message to our farmers – we don’t care if the size, shape or colour isn’t perfect, as long as it tastes just as good, then we are happy to buy it. 

 6. Be Creative with Leftover Vegetables and Fruits.

One practice that can help eliminate food waste is to do a weekly fridge cleanout, identifying all of the food that has the potential to go bad in the near future. Frequently this includes vegetables and fruit. At F&F we often create vegetable bowls, using a mix of produce left over in the fridge. You can get creative pairing different vegetables and completing the dish with a delicious sauce, such as Danya’s green sauce

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing some of our favourite bowls and sauces, which provide a great way to utilize the food leftovers in the fridge and to prevent food waste.  

Other ways to use leftover vegetables and fruits include making smoothies and soups. Fermenting foods, such as making Kimchi, will help to preserve the lifetime of the vegetable. Check out the Noma Guide to Fermentation for more ideas. 

 7. Support Local Organizations That Reduce Food Waste.

There are a number of local organizations and initiatives that are trying to reduce food waste. These include:

  • The Community Cabbage. This student organization at the University of Victoria serves a free weekly meal to the campus community prepared from food that otherwise would have been thrown out. The food, while still edible, was deemed unsellable and donated by local grocery stores. A crew of volunteers use these ingredients to cook healthy, vegetarian meals. Anyone is welcome to cook and dine with Community Cabbage
  • Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW). LFHW Canada is modeled on the campaign in the UK – which, in its first five years, helped to reduce avoidable food waste by 21%. LFHW works with businesses, governments and community groups to inspire and empower people to “make their food go further and waste less.” LFHW has a number of resources and plenty of information on why food waste matters on their website.
  • Second Harvest. Second Harvest is the largest food rescue organization in Canada. They operate a food rescue and delivery program, they provide training and education, and they run a summer program that feeds hungry kids in city camps.
  • Food Rescue. Created by Second Harvest, Food Rescue facilitates “food donations from generous businesses, who understand the importance of recovering healthy, nutritious food and diverting it to those in need.” Food rescue provides a platform that connects food donors to social service programs in local communities.

 8. Eat out- take your leftovers.

The portions we are served at restaurants are often more than we can eat. Eat family style. Take your leftovers with you.  Don’t let the food go to waste!

 9. Encourage Food Donation

As discussed in the article Waste Not: the Unspoken Problem of Food Waste, a substantial amount of food is wasted by retailers, food manufacturers, caterers, hotels, and other food businesses. Businesses state liability concerns as one of the main reasons for not donating excess or leftover food. However, in all of Canada, there is food donation legislation that protects food businesses from liability when donating in good faith. In British Columbia business are protected by the BC Food Donor Encouragement Act. Guidelines have been created by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC)to help the food industry donate safe and healthy food to food distribution. In addition, there are food organizations, such as Food Rescue, which facilitate food donations, making it easier for businesses to provide donations of healthy food to their local community.

If you are catering an event, or working with a food business, advocate for donations of food that would otherwise be thrown away.

 10. Spread the Word.

Considering the environmental and social impacts of food waste, it is a vastly overlooked problem, both worldwide and in Canada. We need to bring this issue to the forefront of conversations regarding climate change, food insecurity and waste management.

Spread the word, educate others and challenge yourself to reduce food waste in your everyday life.

We will be continuing to provide recipes and strategies to reduce food waste in the house, as well as support each other to change the way we value food and perceive food waste.

  1. Slavin, J. (2013). Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. Nutrients, 5(4), 1417-1435.
  2. Government of Canada,Canadian Food Inspection Agency, & Public Affairs. (2018, June 22). Date Labelling on Pre-packaged Foods. Retrieved from http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/information-for-consumers/fact-sheets-and-infographics/date-labelling/eng/1332357469487/1332357545633.

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