How to cut food waste and save £100s a year off your shopping bill

Food prices are still rising, so it pays to make sure you eat what you buy and avoid food waste where possible. We’ve some top tips to help.

The average household spends £4,100 on groceries a year – see our how to save money on grocery shopping and supermarket discount vouchers and coupons guides for ways to keep the cost down.

A whopping £700 of that annual spend ends up in the bin, as we collectively throw away 6.6 million tonnes of food each year, according to food waste charity WRAP – the Waste and Resources Action Programme.

Nobody is suggesting you should eat mouldy food or take a chance on food beyond its use by date, but it says around three quarters of the food in our bins could be still be edible.

Potatoes, bread, milk, ready meals and fizzy drinks are the top five most wasted foods according to Love Food Hate Waste.

We explain what those ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on food really mean, along with ways to cut food waste and keep more money in your pocket.

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What does a ‘use by’ date mean on food and is it safe to eat?

It’s food manufacturers who are responsible for deciding whether to include a ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date on their products.

‘Use by’ dates are usually found on fresh foods including meat and fish, and are there for health and safety purposes. You can eat food up until midnight on the ‘use by’ date stamped on the product, but not beyond this unless you cook or freeze it.

Even if fresh food looks and smells fine beyond its use by date, the Food Standards Agency advises against eating it as there could be bacteria in it, which could make you ill.

However, you need to store food correctly for any ‘use by’ dates to be effective. This means checking the storage instructions on labelled products. You should also make sure you use up opened packs of meat or fish within any time frame specified on the packet.

If you spot something in the fridge with a ‘use by’ date and know you won’t eat it in time, stick it in the freezer. You can freeze food up to and even on its ‘use by’ date.

In our how to save money on grocery shopping guide we explain how you can take advantage of ‘yellow sticker discounts’ in stores, with food nearing its expiry date. 

What does ‘best before’ mean and should you eat food beyond this date?

Foods that typically come with a ‘best before’ date include cereals, biscuits, tinned food as well as jams, spreads, and condiments.

Best before dates are about quality, not food safety. They’re an indication of the ideal time frame to enjoy the product at its best, which means a packet of crisps that’s three months out of date may taste stale, but won’t be harmful.

With products you don’t use often, such as gravy granules, or tins of vegetables, there’s always the chance some of these may be lurking in your cupboards, having exceeded their best before date.

However as long as the packaging is intact and the product has been stored correctly, you may be able to safely eat these items for months afterwards.

When it comes to exactly how long you can keep and eat these items, WRAP says biscuits and cereals can be safely eaten for six months beyond their best before date and tinned food and sweets for up to a year afterwards.

You can even make big savings on your food bill by buying up food that’s nearing or gone beyond its ‘best before’ date with online warehouses such as Approved Food.

However once items have been opened, say a jar of jam, pesto sauce or salad cream, check the storage instructions as after opening, it may advise using within a certain time.

13 tips to help you cut food waste and save money

We’ve rounded up some top tips to help you cut back on waste and cut your shopping bill. 3 tips to help you cut food waste and save money.

1. Give your milk the ‘sniff’ test

UK households waste 490 million pints of milk a year simply because we stick to the best before date on it.

Morrisons stopped putting ‘use by’ dates on some of its own brand yoghurt and hard cheeses in 2020. It’s since replaced the ‘use by’ date on 90% of its own brand milk with ‘best before’ dates, and encourages customers to do a ‘sniff test’ to check the milk is OK to drink.

Research shows fresh milk can often last a number of days past the ‘use by’ date shown on the bottle.  So, next time you are about to throw milk away, take the milk sniff test first as it could save you a trip to the shop and save you cash.

2. Separate your fruit to make it last longer

When it comes to fruit, piling everything in a fruit bowl can mean it goes off faster than if you separated the items.

This is because some fruit, especially bananas, avocados, and peaches, produce a natural ripening agent called ethylene. This can speed up the ripening process, which means other fruit in the bowl next to it could go off faster than usual.

If this happens, you can try to prolong the life of the fruit, even if you don’t usually store it this way, by putting it in the fridge.

3. Turn leftovers into sauces to save waste

You can easily whizz up sauces or dips using leftovers. With leftover beans or tomatoes, you could mash them up, add some peppers and blend with garlic to make a salsa dip.

Leftover fruit can be blended into a smoothie, and soft or wrinkled apples can be peeled, and cooked for an apple compote to add to yoghurt or even to use as the base for mini apple crumbles.

Stale bread can also be used to make breadcrumbs, and frozen in resealable freezer bags until needed. And any stray veggies can be whisked into a Spanish omelette or frittata for tea.

4. Boost the shelf life of fresh food by cooking it

Under recommendations by the Food Standards Agency, you can eat food up until midnight on its ‘use by’ date, providing it’s been stored correctly.

However, you can boost the shelf life of the product by 48 hours by cooking it, even if that’s late at night on its use by date.

This is because cooking kills any pathogens (which include bacteria), in the food and give you more time to eat it.

5. Keep your fridge at the right temperature

Your fridge may feel cold but it’s the temperature that counts. This should be between 0 – 5 degrees Celsius, however, according Love Food Hate Waste, the average UK fridge temperature is set at least 2 degrees Celsius too warm. 

Adjusting your fridge temperature could help keep your food fresh for at least three days longer. If your fridge is too warm, it means food and drink can go off more quickly and may not be safe to eat, whatever its use by or best before date.

You also don’t want your fridge to be too cold, as you’ll be wasting energy and adding to your bills. See how to use less gas and electricity for ways to cut back, and our energy comparison guide if you’re thinking of switching your tariff.

6. Make a list before going shopping

This may sound obvious, but if you’re racing around the supermarket in a bid to stock up after work, it’s all too easy to impulse-buy excess fresh food that could get wasted.

Making a meal plan so you know what you need to buy can help with the fight against food waste. This includes planning everything from the kids’ packed lunches to evening meals. See more ways to save on your grocery shopping.

7. Buy frozen not fresh

Stocking up on frozen fruit and vegetables instead of buying fresh can help save food waste.

Packs of sliced peppers, mushrooms and berries are often cheaper than buying fresh, and there’s no waste. as you can get out only what you need for that meal.

In Asda for example, you can pay 75p for a 360g pack of fresh broccoli, but a pack of frozen broccoli, more than twice the size, costs just £1.50 for 1kg.

8. Pack your fridge properly to avoid food waste

Ramming everything in the fridge when you get back from the shops may seem like a job done, but overfilling the fridge can affect food quality.

If your fridge is stuffed full, the air can’t circulate. This makes it harder for the appliance to maintain its set temperature.

If the temperature rises, even temporarily, it’s not good for the food inside. While it won’t instantly go off, doing this repeatedly could mean food may go off before its designated use by date.

When it comes to how to stack your fridge, meat and fish should always go on the lower shelves. This is in case any juices drip, as this way, there’s no risk of contaminating other food, and wasting it.

Constantly opening the fridge door or leaving it wide open while you debate what to cook for tea, is also detrimental to the health of your fridge and the food inside.

9. Use your freezer to prolong the life of food

If you spot something in the fridge that’s close to its ‘use by’ date and you’re unlikely to eat it in time, stick it in the freezer.

You can freeze food up to and on its ‘use by’ date. You can freeze everything from meat, fish, milk and cheese, to cream, eggs, rice and potatoes.

With eggs, the best way to freeze them is to break them and freeze them in sealable containers. Or you could separate the yolk and white if you want to use them separately, say using the whites for meringues at a later date.

With leftovers from lunches or dinner, pop them into sealable freezer proof containers. Even the remains of a jar of bolognese sauce can be frozen, defrosted and used next time round.

10. Check storage instructions once you open sauces and spreads

Once you’ve opened a jar of jam or honey, or bottle of mayonnaise, ketchup or soy sauce, it’s worth checking those storage instructions.

In many cases, once the product is opened, the storage instructions will advise keeping it in the fridge, along with how long it should be kept.

Storage instructions may vary according to the product manufacturer, but do have a read to prolong the life of your kitchen staples.

11. Cool food before putting it in the fridge

If you’re freezing leftovers, or batch cooked meals for the week, it’s best to wait until food has cooled down, before putting it in the fridge.

Putting it in straight away could affect and spoil other fresh food. This is because the warm food temporarily raises the temperature inside the fridge, which then means other food isn’t being stored at the correct temperature.

Your fridge will then have to work harder to get back to its regulated temperature, which can cost more in energy bills.

12. Tricks to extend the life of lettuce

If you buy bagged salad, once opened, it can quickly turn brown and limp.

The best way to prolong its shelf life is to get a bowl of water and dip in the leaves. Dry off with kitchen paper or using a salad spinner, to squeeze out excess water.

Then wrap carefully in cling film, making sure you get rid of any excess air to help prevent ‘wilting’.

With fresh lettuce, you can cut off and wash the leaves, dry in the same way and store in an airtight storage box.

13. Chop and freeze fresh vegetables

If you’ve got stray onions or peppers that are likely to go off before you can use them, chop and freeze.

You can put them into a resealable freezer bag, and then use by the handful, straight from the freezer for stir fries.