By macleans.ca - Monday, January 21, 2013 - 0 Comments
From expiration dates to fruit aesthetics, $27 billion dollars worth of food are wasted annually
That banana looks a bit brown. The yogourt is past its “best before” date. And no one else is eating those end slices, so why should you?
In the typical Canadian kitchen, the banana, yogourt and the bread crusts—and a lot more besides—are prime candidates for the garbage can or composter. With food cheap and plentiful, we’ve regrettably become a nation of picky eaters. An estimated $27 billion worth of food, or 40 per cent of what’s produced annually in Canada, is wasted between field and table, according to a recent study from the George Morris Centre in Guelph, Ont. More than half of that occurs at home.
This is not just a Canadian concern. In 2011 the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimated 33 per cent of global food production, or 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted per year. And last week, a report from the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers pushed that number up to an astounding 50 per cent—half of all food produced in the world is lost, misdirected or thrown away due to poor harvesting techniques, spoilage, inefficient distribution processes and overly dainty consumer preferences. Continue…
By Rachel Mendleson - Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 7 Comments
For a new niche of budget-conscious food shoppers, best-before dates are just numbers
Growing up, Daniel Quinn was taught to never waste food. So when a café he used to frequent in Kingston, Ont., emptied a fridge full of milk into the trash, simply because the date branded on the cartons had passed, he was appalled. “Gallons of something that I’d purchased that morning were just thrown out,” says the 21-year-old biology student, who had consumed a carton of the offending milk with no ill effects. The experience prompted him to create a Facebook group called “Expiry Dates are Just Numbers.” Quinn, who lives on a tight budget, says a blind adherence to “relatively arbitrary” timelines for when food can be consumed is wasteful and unnecessary. Instead, he trawls the aisles for discounts on items about to expire, and relies on his senses to judge when something’s gone off. “Food can last for a long time,” he says. “Living in Canada, especially in the winter, you can be very lenient with expiry dates.”
As the global economy limps toward recovery and consumers continue to sniff out savings, Quinn is not the only one questioning the premise of expiry dates. In the U.K., frugal shoppers have been flocking to websites offering outdated and short-dated pop, chips and cookies, at discounted rates. In January, Approvedfood.co.uk, which specializes in non-perishable items close to or just past their best-before dates, reported that sales in the last week of December were 500 per cent higher than in that period the year before. Copycat sites have crept up, including Foodbargains.co.uk, set up, according to its website, “to provide the bargain basement offers direct to the public.” While retailers of out-of-date products have yet to emerge in North America, anecdotal evidence suggests there’s demand. According to Approved Food founder Dan Cluderay, “It’s only a matter of time before somebody tries it.”
This willingness to push the limits of the dates branded on everything from cottage cheese to cans of soup doesn’t contradict the science. When it comes to expiry dates, which pertain to perishables like milk and meat, the Canada Food Inspection Agency requires manufacturers to meet certain safety and nutritional standards. But there is a big difference between these numbers, and best-before dates on shelf-stable items such as crackers and cookies. With milk and meat, manufacturing plants submit samples to smell, taste and lab tests. “There is some science behind those dates,” says Rick Holley, a food microbiology and food safety professor at the University of Manitoba. He would know. In the ’90s, he worked for a large dairy operation running such tests. “I’ve tasted so much rotten milk in my life it’s unbelievable,” he says. But, for products that are shelf-stable for more than 90 days—baked beans, chocolate bars—there are no formal regulations guiding best-before dates. It’s about food quality—freshness, look, taste—as opposed to safety. As such, says Holley, “it’s really a rough guess.”