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Sunday, July 1, 2012

You could be losing 48 lakh in wasted food

An average middle-class family can save a fortune simply through smart shopping, intelligent storage and careful consumption of food.

When was the last time your sulking child refused to finish his meal and you had to dump it in garbage? Or the expensive grapes you bought were squished beyond consumption by the mangoes in your fridge? It's a cinch that these are daily occurrences to which you don't give a second thought. Did you know that the Indian urban, middleclass households trash an estimated 5-6% of the food they buy, be it the squishy bananas, products past the 'best before' dates, or leftovers that nobody wants? 

    In fact, according to a recent UN report, almost a third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted across the world every year. North America and Europe are the biggest offenders, with a per capita wastage of 95-115 kg of food every year. The figure for Southeast Asia is far lower at 6-11 kg per year. These macro figures mask the reality of urban, middle-class India. Though there are no official figures for food wasted by Indians, a study conducted for the Ministry of Consumer Affairs last year found that 15-20% of the food served in social gatherings is wasted. 
    Just think of what this means in rupee terms. Assuming that the average urban, middle-class household spends 15,000 a month on food, nearly 750 is thrown into the waste bin every month. The opportunity cost can be mind-boggling. ET Wealth estimates that if 500 saved every month is invested in an option that earns an annualised return of 12%, in 40 years, you would amass 48 lakh. 
    Admittedly, one cannot avoid wastage completely, for no matter how careful you are, some of it gets thrown away. One can, however, curtail this to a great extent through a threepronged approach—smart 
purchase, intelligent storage and optimal usage. 
    Your war against waste begins at the supermarket. It's where you pick up all the food that eventually finds its way to the garbage bin. If you rein in your impulses and follow a few rules, you can cut your grocery bill by almost 10-15%. Let us consider how. 
Don't shop hungry 
The rule of thumb is to never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach because food looks a lot more appealing when the belly is growling. You are more likely to be tempted to buy an extra pack of muffins or a large pack of chips, sending your budget haywire. The simple way out of this is to eat well before you head for the supermarket. Also, if you are a compulsive shopper, take hard cash instead of credit card. 
    Research shows that cash 
    payments pinch more, 
    forcing you to be 
circumspect when it comes to spending. 
    Plan purchases in 
Check your inventory 
    before you go shopping. 
    Make a list of items you need and stick to the plan. Making purchasing decisions on the spur of the moment, swayed by combo deals or lured by the siren song of attractive displays, makes you more susceptible to buying items you don't really need. Take the time to read the fine print on freebies, particularly the expiry date on perishable goods. What good is a buy-two-get-one-free deal on, say, yogurts, if you can only consume one before the others go bad? 
Be choosy when you buy in bulk 
It's well known that if you buy in bulk, you save money. However, not all vegetables are fit for bulk deals. Potatoes and onions are perfect candidates because you can store them for days, even weeks. Other vegetables, such as bitter gourds, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes and radishes cannot be stored for more than 4-5 days. 
Leafy vegetables, such as spinach and fenugreek, will turn squishy after a day or two. These are best bought just when you need them in small quantities. No doubt this will be costlier than the bulk rate, but you also avoid wastage. 
    The next step is to store food intelligently so as to minimise waste while stretching your budget, a must in these times of stagnating incomes and spiralling inflation. 
Focus on the fridge 
Your refrigerator is the biggest ally in your zero waste mission. The ideal temperature is 1-4 degree Celsius, but you may need to change the setting for different seasons. Some fruits and vegetables, especially apples, apricots, tomatoes, peaches and plums, emit gases that hasten the 
ripening of other vegetables, so store them in a separate section. 
First in, first out 
Stocking up the fridge wherever you find space may be convenient, but there's a downside. You may end up discovering longexpired items or rotten fruits tucked away at the back. To avoid this, clear out the fridge at least once a week. Also, put new groceries at the back and bring older items to the front.
Use breathable bags 
Stuffing veggies into plastic bags before popping them into the fridge is a sure way of increasing wastage. Instead, use paper bags or breathable biodegradable fabric. It's a good idea to cut off the tops of carrots, turnips and radishes to ensure they last 
longer. Lastly, pat dry leafy vegetables with a paper towel before you store them to slow down the wilting process. Store meat, fish and cheese in airtight plastic bags. 
Don't take expiry too seriously 
Manufacturers tend to be conservative when they put an expiry date on a product. There's no need to throw away a fruit juice carton if it was 'best before' two days ago. The phrase is an indicator of the optimum taste and won't be unsafe for consumption. 
Cook smaller meals 
Don't cook large quantities to save on the effort. If there are leftovers, don't keep them for too long.


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