Reducing food waste requires focus on nutrition, not looks

Odd-shaped, blemished or outdated food products can still be nutritious and used to make sauces, purees or in baking, says dietitian

TORONTO — The dressing in the pantry may have changed colour, but it still can be safe to mix into a salad.

Registered dietitian Jane Dummer, speaking at the SIAL international food show in Toronto May 2, said best before dates in most food products other than meat aren’t related to food safety.

“It’s not pathogenic but more of a quality issue,” she said.

Dummer discussed ways to minimize food waste and make the food budget go further with panelists Franco Naccarato, program manager with the Greenbelt Fund, and Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association.

Dummer organizes a pre-garbage day cookoff and fridge clearout at her home by creating casseroles and stir-frys from produce that’s no longer at its peak.

Food waste is common in produce because retailers have standards for size, colour and shape and vegetables such as cauliflower that aren’t snow white are culled.

However, Naccarato said appearance shouldn’t be the deciding factor in buying food.

“Taste has value,” he said. “If appearance is the only thing we’re judging our food on, then we end up with a poor food system.”

Added Dummer: “Appearance may not be ideal, but nutrition is there and price point is there. You’re still getting a decent product.”

Naccarato said consumers need to shift their focus to nutrition rather than imperfection.

“A little blemish on the skin is not going to make it taste less good,” he said.

Naccarato cited a chef in Italy who creates meals from these products for vulnerable populations.

Loftsgard cited examples of “seconds stores” offering discounts on less than perfect produce.

She said mini carrots were an innovation to reduce food waste in misshapen or oversized carrots.

Dummer said a spiralizer can turn carrots with three roots into snacks, and other imperfect produce can be transformed into baby food, purees or baking.

Loftsgard said buying a side of beef with friends and family and learning how to prepare different cuts is an efficient and cost-effective way to buy meat for families.

The growing popularity of convenience foods and ready-to-eat meals in food stores is another way to make use of ingredients on hand and stop wasting food.

Naccarato said restaurants would be better able to control food costs if they spent more time managing food waste.

“Managing food waste is a challenge because you don’t know how many people are coming in,” he said.

He cited one Toronto chef who was able to spend more on higher priced ingredients from smaller, local farms and processors by focusing on food waste.

“If you reduce food waste, you can spend more money on food and it won’t affect your budget,” he said. “People don’t realize the cost of food waste in the industry.”

Dummer added: “People have not put numbers around that. It will affect your bottom line.

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