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Supermarkets' obsession with perfect produce is causing massive food waste

The UN said this week that if it was reversed, then the wastage could feed the worlds’ hungry.

Image: Shutterstock/beeboys

SUPERMARKETS’ OBSESSION WITH perfect looking produce and the use of arbitrary “best before” labels are causing massive food waste that if reversed could feed the world’s hungry, a UN panel said earlier this week.

Nearly 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year, more than enough to sustain the one billion people suffering from hunger globally, the United Nations food and agriculture organisation (FAO) said.

The energy used growing food that ultimately gets thrown out is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world, behind the US and China, FAO said, citing a report on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

At an event on Thursday on food waste, UN and civil society experts said combatting the problem requires key changes in how food is sold.

In many Western supermarkets, only organic sections contain imperfect looking produce, be it curved cucumbers or oranges with bruises on their peel.

Sarah Oppenheimer of the Britain-based campaign group Feedback Global said supermarket chains worldwide reject edible products over “superficial cosmetic imperfections”.

She criticised widespread practices like trimming the ends of green beans, which shops do to make them fit evenly into neat packages — wasting roughly 20% of the vegetable.

Oppenheimer also called for a standardised labelling system, noting the “sell by”, “consume by” and “best before” tags used by stores were confusing and often bore no relation to the actual expiration date of a product.

Food waste in Ireland

shutterstock_394230274 Source: Shutterstock/Photobac

In May of last year, France’s parliament voted unanimously to ban food waste in big supermarkets.

Under the new law, supermarkets will be forced to donate unsold but edible food to charity, or use it as animal feed or compost.

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Here in Ireland, over a million tonnes of food is wasted in the country every year. One not-for-profit organisation called Foodcloud is trying to tackle this waste, by redistributing food to charities.

In Ireland, households spend around €700 on wasted food every year, according to Safefood figures.

Here are some tips for cutting back on wasting food once you do bring it from supermarket to your home.

- Additional reporting Aoife Barry

Read: We’re wasting loads of food, but here’s how to make it last longer>

Read: How does it feel to pitch to Richard Branson for €1.2m? This Irish company is about to find out…

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