Food for thought: let's not waste what's still edible

A simple sniff is usually enough to deduce if something is safe to use or not.
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Aasma Day

I’m not talking about unsavoury habits like inhaling underpants or pongy socks to see if you can get another day’s wear.

No, I mean edible items as, the last time I checked, food couldn’t tell the time or read a calendar.

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I adore food and can’t abide waste – which is what I say to justify overeating even after my brain tells me my stomach is bursting at the seams.

Rather than gorging all the time, I am the Queen of the Leftovers and have no shame in taking the remnants of my tea into work the following day or having Take Two the day after ordering a gigantic takeaway.

And although I don’t have a dog, I’m not embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag when dining at an Indian restaurant where curries are usually of generous proportions.

After all, I’ve paid for it and if I’ve enjoyed it, I’d sooner take it home than leave it to be scraped into a dustbin.

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However, some people shudder in horror at the thought of eating leftovers.

I have witnessed people over-order food at restaurants and not give a second thought when the almost full plates are cleared a bit later.

It’s not just a case of eyes being bigger than belly: we are a nation who are shamefully wasteful and perfectly good food is binned on a daily basis.

Food and dates are big culprits when it comes to waste… and I don’t mean the romantic kind when couples shell out for a lavish meal.

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Some people religiously follow best before dates and bin food – even when it’s still perfectly safe to eat.

However, while some bin food seconds after its Best Before date, others are happy to scrape the mould off anything.

In all the interviews I’ve done as a journalist, one that sticks in my mind is when I spoke to a man who revealed he survived solely on food pilfered from supermarket dustbins.

Known as “bin dipping”, the practice involves scavenging through rubbish and dining out of dustbins.

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The man proudly told me he’d not spent a penny on food for the last five years but often dined like a king on steak, pork chops, exotic vegetables and bottles of cider.

More importantly, he hadn’t had a day’s illness despite his eating habits.

Too many people suffer from “Best Before Paranoia” and are quick to ditch food just because the label says so.

In the UK, we throw away around 8.3m tonnes of food and drink a year – despite estimates saying around five million tonnes was still perfectly edible.

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Many mistake the meaning of Best Before and Use By. Often when the date has passed, it doesn’t mean the food is harmful although it may have lost some of its flavour and texture.

While I’m not advocating people put their health at risk by eating gone off food – and certainly the very young, very old and pregnant shouldn’t take any chances – I do think common sense has to come into play.

Rather than see food go to waste, I’ve always held the philosophy: “Let’s freeze it for another day.”

Being a terrible hoarder – as well as a hater of food waste, I did chuckle when I read a report revealing more than one million Britons have food in their freezer that is more than a decade old.

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Blimey, I thought I was bad, but 10 years? Surely some foods will have stopped being manufactured in that time.

There’s a fine line between thriftiness and… well, insanity.

I may have food that has been in the freezer for a good few months, but definitely not years.

One friend confessed her mum always buys a fresh turkey from the reduced aisles on Boxing Day and bungs it in the freezer until the following Christmas – but says it always tastes fine.

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I couldn’t be bothered with having so much freezer space taken up for so long, but admire the shrewdness.

With fresh food, doing the “sniff test” and letting your nose be the judge – or your eyes looking for mould – or your taste buds to check if something tastes foul – are usually all we need to assess whether to scoff or bin.

I’m not suggesting we all start living on a diet of old food, but maybe live by the motto: “More eating and less binning.”

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