University of Sunderland consumer expert offers advice on how to reduce our festive food waste

An expert in food waste from the city’s university has given his advice on how to avoid excessive waste over the festive period.

By Neil Fatkin
Thursday, 30th December 2021, 4:07 pm

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The University of Sunderland’s Professor Derek Watson, who has carried out extensive research into food safety and cultural compliance, has highlighted the problem of festive food waste and what needs to be done to change our shopping behaviours “for the sake of the planet”.

Dr Watson said: “There is overwhelming evidence to reaffirm that our conditioned behaviour at Christmas is one of over stocking our freezers and pantries, and whilst we may not be travelling afar, we like to fuel up our vehicles and indulge.

“The consequences often see our refuse bins busting with waste. The sad reality is that despite the public agreeing that food waste is a major concern, this Christmas, like many others, will witness approximately two million UK turkeys and 74 million mince pies discarded and this is just the tip of the UK food waste iceberg.”

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Research published by Dr Watson as part of a recent article shows that for the ‘farm to fork’ supply chain there is an estimated 13.1 tonnes of annual UK food waste producing associated greenhouse gas emissions of 27 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

And it’s not just the environment which suffers as a result of the waste.

Dr Watson added: “Avoidable’ food and drink waste is costing households approximately £500 per year, equating nationally to just under £14bn.”

We all like to overindulge at Christmas, but how much of the food we buy goes to waste?

Levels of waste also seem to be linked to demographic factors and in particular age with research showing “the older we are, the more conservative we become - especially those over 65”.

In order to reduce our waste this Christmas and in the future, Dr Watson feels consumers need to “develop an ability and make time to cook from scratch”, and therefore not be so reliant on pre-prepared processed meals and sauces, as well as being more careful in our purchasing and storage habits.

He said: “Pre-plan a shopping list and stick to it. Sixty per cent of supermarket purchases take place on impulse with consumers taking short-term advantage of bulk food discounts with little thought or planning. This results in 48 per cent of food shopping being discarded due to exceeding suggested sell by dates.

“Storage is also a problem. The majority of our refrigerators are programmed at 7°C or above, rather than at a more suitable temperature of 4°C.”

While Christmas is often a time for overindulgence, it can also lead to excessive food waste, including two million turkeys and 74m mince pies.

The old saying of ‘having eyes bigger than our bellies” is also true with Dr Watson highlighting that 31 per cent of the food we prepare is being left on our plates.

Other tips from Dr Watson to reduce our waste this Christmas includes buying smaller plates to encourage smaller portions, recycling of uneaten food – especially seeds and skins – and, where possible, use micro shops which promote fresh rather than frozen produce which can help to reduce food hording.

The top three food groups wasted are vegetables, fruit, and drinks.

Dr Watson added: “When it comes to consumption, consumer eyes are very much larger than their actual appetites.”

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