UK families could save almost £700 a year if they cut down on the food they waste, it has been claimed, as a global campaign to tackle the problem was launched.
Simple actions by consumers and retailers could help reduce the 1.3 billion tonnes of food, worth more than £600 billion, which is lost or wasted around the world each year, United Nations organisations said.
The amount of food thrown away in developed countries that is still fit to eat would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people going hungry in the world, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.
Wasting food in a world with a population set to hit nine billion by mid-century "makes no sense", and wastes land, water, fertilisers and labour needed to grow the food, as well as adding extra greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said.
The campaign comes following a recent report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers which suggested as much as half of the food produced globally is lost or wasted, a total of up to two billion tonnes a year. In the UK, the average family could save £680 by tackling food waste, while the hospitality sector could save £724 million a year, according to waste reduction organisation Wrap, which is part of the "Think.Eat.Save." campaign.
In developed countries, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that are too focused on appearance, confusion over date labels and people throwing away edible food because they have bought too much, stored it inappropriately or prepared meals that are too big. Consumers are being urged to think about shopping for food, by planning meals, using shopping lists, avoiding impulse buys and resisting marketing tricks which lead them to buy more food than they need.
Buying "funny" fruit or vegetables, at farmers' markets or elsewhere, will prevent the waste of produce that could get thrown away because it is the wrong shape, size or colour, according to the campaign.
People are also being advised that "best before" dates are generally manufacturer suggestions for when the food is best, and it can be safely eaten well after that date. "Use by" dates mean the food needs to be eaten before then.
Other actions that the campaign urges include freezing food, following storage guidance, eating leftovers, composting food and checking out websites which can help consumers get creative with recipes to use up food that might soon go bad. Suggestions for retailers include offering discounts for food close to expiry, while restaurants, pubs and hotels could limit menu choices and introduce flexible portions.
Consumers in rich countries waste 10 times as much food as people in Sub-Saharan Africa and southern and south-east Asia. UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: "In a world of seven billion people, set to grow to nine billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense - economically, environmentally and ethically."