One controversial source of food waste in the EU over the past 20 years has now been addressed by the European Commission: it has repealed marketing standards restricting the sale of 26 types of fruit and veg if they are mis-shaped or have blemishes.
The move means that, from July 1, knobbly carrots and other ‘ugly’ fruit and veg will start to reappear on supermarket shelves. The list of 26 includes apricots, cherries, plums, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, leeks, melons, onions and spinach.
A further 10 types of fruit and veg, including apples, strawberries and tomatoes, will remain subject to marketing standards, but can still be sold in shops as long as they are labelled ‘product intended for processing’ (or similar wording) to distinguish them from ‘extra’, ‘class I’ and ‘class II’ produce.
The return of odd-shaped fruit and veg could mean a reduction in prices of up to 40 per cent, according to some retailers - good news for households trying to stick to a healthy diet while watching what they spend as the recession continues to bite.
Food that doesn't cost the earth
Despite our grumbles about rising prices, the average UK household throws away £420 worth of food a year, say government experts. The good news is that there are some simple ways we can reduce waste and save money - without compromising our healthy eating goals.
Food Matters: Towards a Strategy for the 21st Century, a major study undertaken by the Cabinet Office's Strategy Unit, investigated the impact of food production and consumption on the population's health and on the environment, now and in the future.
According to the research, an estimated 70,000 premature deaths in the UK could be avoided each year if our diets matched nutritional guidelines, such as eating five portions of fruit and veg each day and cutting down on salt, sugar and ‘bad’ fats.
The study also looked at the huge environmental impact of food production and consumption, which together account for around 18 per cent of the UK's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The authors note, “Here in the UK, widespread concern about higher food prices sits awkwardly alongside evidence showing that consumers throw away 4.1 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten ? worth an average of £420 per household - every year.”
They estimate that eliminating household food waste would deliver a reduction in GHG emissions equivalent to taking one in five cars off the roads. There are simple ways families can cut down on food waste, say the researchers, such as storing vegetables in the fridge.
They conclude, “There is a future of food that is far more sustainable - economically, environmentally and socially. It is a future where consumers are able to access healthy, low-impact food that fits their lifestyles and time pressures - whether cooking from basic ingredients or buying a prepared meal.”
Healthy eating needn't be expensive
“There is nothing tastier than fresh produce,” says nutritionist Sarah Schenker. “Learning to cook with fresh ingredients will help ensure that you enjoy healthy and tasty meals.”
Whether you're buying produce from a grocery store or from a local farmers‘ market, here are some tips from Sarah on what to look for when buying fresh fruit and vegetables:
- Choose fruit and vegetables that look and smell fresh. Look for produce that is not bruised or damaged - over-handling produce can cause damage and spoilage.
- There is very little nutritional difference between organically grown and conventionally grown produce, so don't feel pressurised to always buy organic because you think it is healthier. By all means choose organic for taste and flavour where your budget permits, but remember: whichever you buy, always wash well and peel when appropriate.
- When preparing vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, use a vegetable peeler or scrap lightly with a knife to reduce wastage. This also minimises the nutrient losses, as nutrient content is often more concentrated just beneath the skin.
- When cooking vegetables, try steaming lightly or microwaving in just a little water, as this will help reduce some nutrient losses. The nutrients most affected are vitamin C and folate: the longer you boil vegetables such as broccoli or cabbage, the more of these vitamins will be leached out into the water. These vitamins are also destroyed by heat, so it is best to cook vegetables quickly and allow them to retain some of their crunch.
- Vegetables don't always have to be eaten raw to be healthy. Take carrots and tomatoes, for example: cooking them well releases antioxidant substances called carotenoids, which then allows them to be more easily absorbed by the body. So if you spot a bargain on a bag full of mis-shaped carrots, you can turn them into a very nutritious soup!
- Refrigeration keeps most fruit and vegetables from ripening. If you purchase unripe fruit or veg, place the fruit in a paper bag and close tightly. For certain vegetables and fruit, such as avocados, it is best to just lay them in a fruit bowl until they are ripe.