There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch? Actually, Turns Out There Is It is estimated that some 10 million tonnes of food is wasted each year within the UK, 60% of which is seen to be avoidable. This is believed to be worth around £17 billion per year. These figures are quite staggering.
About 70% of food waste is from households and with 26% spread between manufacturing, hospitality and food service the bad news is that between 2011 and today, the amount of food wasted is increasing. So what can we do to reduce this? Well how about turning to ‘For Sale’ websites?
What do you normally see on ‘For Sale’ websites. A new car? A pair of used jeans? Maybe a trampoline?
How about a sandwich?
How about a free sandwich?
It appears that the phrase ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ is now a little out-dated thanks to the new social networking app, OLIO.
For those not in the know, OLIO connects neighbours with each other and local businesses so surplus food can be shared and not thrown away. This could be food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables, bread from your bakery or even the groceries in your fridge when you go away. The app was created to tackle the increasing mass of food waste that the everyday shopper, employee or baker wastes. It’s tackling sustainability head on and has already amassed around 320,000 users, after launching in 2015.
Unlike other sale websites, everything on the app is 100% free. No catch, no small print, just free. It’s based on a first come, first served basis, so users have to act quickly. However, with free food, there has to be to a few considerations to take into account before picking up such as allergies in products, the cleanliness rating of the user and the use by dates.
Users are graded on a review system, similar to Uber, so you can tell beforehand whether the products you’re about to go and pick up can be trusted. Another system in place is the terms and conditions set for users before they sign up. The official outline is:
“ Good enough for you : only add food that you would be willing to eat yourself” and that the person adding food must be compliant with any standards set by the relevant food competent authority.”
There is a common fear behind using food that is at the end of its shelf life. Food that is past its use-by date simply should not be used as it presents the potential risk of causing harm to the consumer. However food which is marked with a best before date or has no shelf life date at all can be perfectly safe to eat, although it may not be quite the quality expected.
One key problem is around our labelling laws. As soon as food is taken off premises for supply to others, it becomes defined as pre-packed food and therefore needs to be clearly labelled in line with legislative requirements. In some cases this is relatively easily surmounted. For example, Pret have a policy of providing sandwiches left over at the end of the day to food charities which includes the adhering of product labels to each sandwich, thus achieving legal compliance. This though is not always possible, especially with smaller businesses.
But with free food, comes another set of issues. STS Food Safety Senior Consultant, Dave Griffin, explains that the benefits of services like OLIO on the current food wastage system.
“ Excess food waste has moral, environmental and commercial impacts – WRAP report that 1/3 of all food produced in the world ends up as waste which also accounts for 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions. It is also estimated that food waste costs the UK Hospitality sector over £2.5 billion per year. Action groups such as OLIO are helping to connect local businesses and individuals to enable sharing of surplus items. The service now has over 300,000 users and numbers are increasing all the time. Some food businesses have in the past been resistant to redistribution of foods due to the food safety hazards involved. The following factors should be considered: Temperature control If hot food is to be redistributed hot it should be kept above 63c to prevent bacterial multiplication – this can be achieved through use of insulated containers and bags Hot food which will be redistributed cold should be cooled rapidly – use ice baths or a blast chiller to expedite this process. Place in the fridge within 90 minutes of the start of cooling Chilled food should be kept below 8c (ideally below 5c). Using flasks for liquids, ice packs and insulated bags can help achieve this Frozen food should be dispatched below -18c. Keep the food in the freezer until the last possible moment prior to dispatch Shelf life Food that is past its use-by date simply should not be redistributed as it is unsafe for the consumer. All food should be labelled with the date of expiry including if it needs to be eaten the same day Food past its best before date or fresh food with no expiry date applied (e.g. fresh fruit and vegetables) can be redistributed – the quality may be decreased but it will be perfectly safe to eat Allergens Food businesses are required to provide accurate information about the presence of 14 different allergenic ingredients in products they serve. This also applies to foods which are redistributed On pre-packed foods the allergen information should be labelled on the product and highlighted on the ingredients list For non-pre-packed foods, allergen information should be provided for each dish redistributed – this could be in the form of recipe sheets highlighted the allergenic ingredients or a summary allergen matrix. Remember to consider the potential for accidental allergenic contamination in your kitchen (for example, if flour is handled on the premises then the product cannot be guaranteed to be gluten free) Cross contamination There are increased risks associated with redistributing raw meat/fish and unwashed vegetables due to the potential for cross contamination from raw to ready to eat foods. If raw meat or fish is redistributed, it should be in sealed packaging and sent in a different bag. It is good practice to also separate unwashed vegetables due to the risk of microorganisms being present on the surface Ensure all packaging used is food safe and clean Record keeping Businesses should keep details of what they have dispatched and to whom they have redistributed it. This record should also include the temperature upon dispatch to verify above 63c (hot food), below 8c (chilled food) or below -18c (frozen food). The temperatures should be taken upon dispatch in the presence of whoever is collecting the products – they should also sign to confirm safe receipt If these factors are considered there is no reason why surplus food cannot be redistributed in a safe manner to reduce levels of food waste. If you are interested in redistributing safe food, we recommend these next steps: Get your team involved Involving individuals in reducing and redistributing surplus food can promote positive results. One of our clients who redistribute recognised that their teams have not only reduced the amount of waste generated but also share in the feel-good factor that such initiatives can provide Tell your customers Do not be afraid of telling your customers that you are looking at food waste and putting in place schemes. Whether this is by the use of point of sale notices or posters or simply talking with your customer base, you have the opportunity to show yourselves as being an ethical and caring business Work with your suppliers Consult with suppliers as to whether food they supply you can be re-frozen. It may also be possible to remove shelf life from some products such as unprepared fruit and vegetables. Where suppliers routinely apply dates, request that they stop doing this where dates are not required Consult your Environmental Health Officer It is good practice to notify your EHO that you are planning to redistribute surplus food. Many local authorities are working with food charities and will be more than happy to work with you Our team of food safety specialists would be delighted to assist you further. More information is available here WRAP are also currently are operating the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ programme. This invites food businesses to analyse their food waste on a weekly basis and then gives guidance and best practices to help target practices that generate this excess waste. More information is available via https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/