The Star Malaysia - Star2
Avoiding food wastage at home
IN Malaysia, households are the biggest culprits in terms of food waste, generating 38% of the nearly 17,000 tonnes of food waste produced daily.
So how do we curb this? Here are some tips:
Know your labels
Many consumers find expiry dates and best before dates befuddling, which can lead to people throwing food out unnecessarily.
Expiry dates relate to perishable foods like milk and yoghurt or fresh food that isn’t processed. These dates generally should be followed, because these foods can spoil easily if it comes in contact with bacteria, yeast or mould.
But as with most things, apply common sense and trust your instincts.
“Food laws are there to help keep consumers happy and safe and generally if it’s in your fridge and it smells okay, looks okay and tastes okay, it probably is okay! The key is to consider this before you go automatically to throwing the produce into the trash,” says Ruth Osborne, the ambassador of Retaste, a restaurant in Sweden whose menu is designed around surplus food collected from supermarkets.
Best before dates, on the other hand, are primarily for canned foods with longer shelf lives. These foods go through thermal processing, meaning they are processed at temperatures ranging from 121°C (for food like canned fruit cocktails) and 170°C degrees (for canned meats). This effectively destroys most of the bacteria, including dangerous spores, which is why average shelf life is 18 months.
Best before dates indicate how long the product may be stored prior to consumption. If it says best before April 2022, then before the date, the colour, nutrients, texture and flavours are there. After the date, the colour might be slightly altered – it’s still safe to consume but it isn’t appealing when you look at it. Generally, canned foods can last two to three years.
To add to consumers’ confusion, some products also display sell-by dates, which many people mistake for an expiry date. In reality, sellby dates are there for retailers to do stock rotation, as products have to be sold by a particular date, failing which, they are collected back and often end up being discarded or used as animal feed.
Use produce wisely
“If you see that a vegetable is starting to turn and you’re not going to eat it, make a puree, soup or broth with it and freeze it. You just need to be a little bit aware and try and beat the waste. If you pay attention to what you have and not just buy more, you’ll end up using everything in your fridge,” says Drew Nocente, the chef-owner of minimal waste Singaporen restaurant Salted & Hung.
Nocente also advocates being creative with excess vegetable trimmings. Radish trimmings for instance can be incorporated into a dashi soup and broccoli stems can be blended into purees. Even soups can be repurposed – a fish broth can be blended with old bread, dehydrated and turned into fish crackers!
Fruit and vegetable peels also don’t need to be binned immediately. Fruit peels can be used to make jams, drinks and even popsicles!
Vegetable peels on the other hand are a staple in most good broths and stocks. “Just add in a little bit extra vegetable peels to your stocks and broths and this will add more flavour, sometimes even more than actual vegetables. A lot of the flavour and nutrients are actually in peelings,” says Nocente.
Use techniques that prolong shelf life of food
Fresh produce has a shorter life span, especially in hot, humid tropical countries like Malaysia, where the high moisture content in the air can cause deterioration fairly quickly. Pickling, curing or fermenting fruits, vegetables and meat can help prolong the shelf life of these products. How does this work?
Curing meats for instance decreases water potential which prohibits the growth of microbes. Pickling vegetables or fruits (like traditional Indian achars) typically uses brining solutions which help deter the presence of oxygen, which in turn means food is less likely to go bad. Fermentation is also a great food preservation method, as the lactic acid that is encouraged increases shelf life and nutritive value.
Store food well
Some foods like potatoes, onions and garlic last longer when stored at room temperature, without any packaging. Most refrigerated produce on the other hand, will endure for a longer period of time when packed in containers or reusable silicone pouches.
Also some vegetables and fruits shouldn’t be placed next to each other in the fridge – fruits like bananas and apples contain ethylene gas, which hasten the decline of vegetables like spinach, kangkong, broccoli and lettuce.
Meat and seafood will last a lot longer if they are immediately placed in the freezer. If kept in the freezer, even fresh meat can last up to a year, provided it is kept in the freezer throughout. If the meat is defrosted but only a portion of it is used and then the rest is placed back in the refrigerator, the exposure to air caused by the thawing can potentially lead to microbes and bacteria proliferating on the meat.
In the case of canned and packaged foods, bacteria and mould can form if the canned food is only partially eaten and then not stored well. In this instance, the general rule is partially-eaten canned food should be stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator.