Last updated at 12:36 BST, Thursday, 18 July 2013

Staff blog


About the blogger

Jen is a producer at BBC Learning English. In this week's blog she looks at why we waste so much food.

How much food do you throw out?

How much food do you chuck out, and, more importantly, why? Apparently, we waste around a third of all food across the world. Many people bin food that is in their fridge or store cupboards because it has gone out of date.

Food in the fridge

You might see some of these labels written on food packaging in the UK, followed by a date:

'Sell by'

'Display until'

'Use by'

'Best before'

Food packaging with a 'best before' date on it

A 'best before' date on some food packaging

Many people will throw food away if any of these dates have passed. They worry that the food will become unsafe to eat and throw it out to be on the safe side. But what is the difference between these labels? Let's look at the labels in detail:

'Sell by' and 'display until' dates are for shop staff and don't relate to whether the food is safe to eat.

'Best before' dates refer to the quality of the food; after a while, it might not taste so good, but it could still be safe to eat. In other words, the food tastes best before a certain date.

The 'use by' date is perhaps the most important, as this tells us when the food stops being safe to eat.

Once you know what the dates mean, you are less likely to waste food that could be perfectly safe to eat.

Another good tip to avoid food waste is to make the most of leftovers. If you are prepared to experiment, you will soon become good at rustling up a meal from leftover vegetables, meat or pasta. Last night's dinner could be today's lunch!

Portion control is also important. Many of us cook too much food and end up throwing a lot of it away at the end of a meal. Understanding how to control portions, and weighing food can make a big difference.

Last night I managed to avoid a trip to the supermarket and created an experimental dinner. It had some vegetables from the night before, a little bit of leftover chicken, some rice that was in the cupboard and various dashes of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar. It was tasty, cheap and nothing in my fridge had gone to waste.

As the old saying goes: Waste not, want not!


to chuck out

to throw away

to bin something

to throw it in the bin

out of date

food that has passed a certain date and may not be good to eat

sell by [date]

the date before which a shop should sell food

display until [date]

the date before which a shop should have the food on its shelves

use by [date]

after this date, food is not safe to eat

best before [date]

food will taste best before this date, but may still be safe to eat

to be on the safe side

to be cautious


food that is saved for later

to rustle something up

to prepare a meal quickly

portion control

eating the right amount of food; not too much, not too little

to go to waste

to be thrown out

waste not, want not

a popular phrase meaning that if you don't waste food, you won't be hungry

End of Section

Now tell us what you think

How do you avoid wasting food? Do you like cooking experimental meals from leftovers?

Please note that we are not able to publish all comments and comments may be edited.


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    • 1. At 3:37pm on 12 Jun 2013, Andry wrote:

      Hello Jen!
      In my family we try to avoid wasting food not only because food gets more expensive from year to year but it’s got an ethical reason too. Even if it happens I always feel myself ashamed thinking about millions of people suffering of malnutrition in many parts of the World especially in Africa.
      We’ve learned how to cook from leftovers. My wife does it successfully. As for me, I’ve got my portion downsized that prevents me from getting weight and keeps cholesterol on low level.

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    • 2. At 3:57pm on 12 Jun 2013, Tapuling2531 wrote:

      This is a good way to learn English by myself and i totally love it.
      And thanks for all teacher. Love this web too much.

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    • 3. At 5:24pm on 12 Jun 2013, AldairLA wrote:

      Hi Jen, nice article! As you have mentioned it, across the world we waste a third part of all food and here in Brazil it hasn't been different. At home my wife and I have tried (when it is possible) to create experimental dinner with leftovers.
      Portion control is used by us to avoid to bin food but I believe that restaurants, in a general way, have been responsable for major part of waste food.

      Well, what can I say "Let's work together and build a better World"

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    • 4. At 03:17am on 13 Jun 2013, Evelyn_1986 wrote:

      Well, I strictly control the portion of vegetables cooked because they say vegetables can not stay overnight or even more than 3 hours. As for pork or chicken, if there are eftovers, i put them on pizza and throw it in the oven, usually this came out with a great flavor!

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    • 5. At 08:53am on 13 Jun 2013, Liuton wrote:

      I can't see other‘s comments!

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    • 6. At 09:05am on 13 Jun 2013, Agus wrote:

      Hi there,
      I completely agree with the stuff stated here and indeed, my family and I certainly put in practice some of the advice to not waste too much food.

      I have to say that, I love food, eating and cooking so it is really hard for me to throw away a tomato, a banana or the rest of a meal because I know that even though in that moment I'm not hungry, I'm sure those things will be tasty and delicious, later when I'll be really hungry.

      I encourage you people to not throw any food away never if it is in good condition, because it could become the start of an excelent dish! You never know...


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    • 7. At 5:27pm on 13 Jun 2013, Sridevi wrote:

      My parents told me not to waste food from my childhood. Of course i do not throw food into the bin purposely.

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    • 8. At 11:34am on 15 Jun 2013, Lewis wrote:

      Hi Jen!
      This was a really interesting subject to be commented. I'd like to add that the same happens in Spain, when last month the Government decided to eliminate the 'Best before' statement from the yogurts due to a large number of them were being chucked out.
      Moreover, you have a point when you talk about Portion control, it could be one of the major problems when getting rid of the food. In fact, I think it is easier to cook only for one person than for an entire famil, which is far more difficult to work out.
      I liked the post!

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    • 9. At 12:37pm on 16 Jun 2013, Bontot wrote:

      Does this article have the audios too?I can't found it?

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    • 10. At 3:10pm on 16 Jun 2013, sakuramail wrote:

      Hello, Jen!
      I totally agree with your comments. When I was a kid, my parents and teachers in schools told us to thank the foods and not to waste them. Sometimes I've struggled to eat up what were served in meals, but I feel guilty when I made leftover. There are piles of foods in restaurants and stores, when they pass the sell by date, they go to waste. That is shameful! It's time to start doing portion control.

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    • 11. At 9:35pm on 17 Jun 2013, slawomira wrote:

      Hi there,
      this is a very interessting and important topic. It is related to another matters: how much food do you buy and how much food do you need. In rich countrys the people eat far too much and they buy far too much food. Actually a man need little to eat.
      The idea, that you think about hungry in Afrika, when you throw away the food is stupid. It means, you shoud eat everything from your fridge because another people are dying of hunger. In this way you become more thick and you dont help the suffering people. The solution is different: you must buy and eat less.
      I have a dog and he eats all leftover from whole day and it is very content about it and I havent guilty conscience about the waste food.

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    • 12. At 09:56am on 18 Jun 2013, Monica wrote:

      Thank you so much for your article. I consider it very helpful and I hope many people could read it and be aware of the importance of no getting rid of meals when they are absolutely healthier for us.

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    • 13. At 11:10am on 18 Jun 2013, yarn wrote:

      Hi Jen
      I can always learn something new and useful here. what a great fun.
      I hope sharing egg yolk with my pooch not committing the crime of wasting food, since I do like egg white.

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    • 14. At 7:57pm on 18 Jun 2013, Ahmet KISA wrote:

      Actually it is very important issue all over the World.İn my opinion we have to buy when necessary.

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    • 15. At 04:28am on 19 Jun 2013, eraserElain wrote:

      Thank u for this useful blog. Not only is it helpful for English learners to learn these useful labels, but also it can arouse all people`s behavior to save. I think controling the portion of vegetables and meat is a good way, for some above have mentioned that vegetable leftovers is not healthy. but recooking all kinds of meat leftovers is feasible.
      In China, it is estimated that the amount of leftovers reach into 200 billion RMB per year,25 billion euros, which is sufficient for nearly 20 million people to eat. Though the number is astonishing, the scene of wasting is more horrifying! Thankfully the government has realized the huge amount of waste and has tightened its belt. Luxurious bureaucratic banquet has been banned and a "clean your plate" campain spread widely through the traditional and social media.
      Truly hope we can leave a beautiful home for descendents.

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    • 16. At 1:18pm on 19 Jun 2013, AnnaGrisha wrote:

      Hello Jen!
      I am from Russia and I don`t think that food wasting is such a big problem in our country like it is in the UK. The most of modern Russian rich families have very difficult past - deficit of food and goods, absence of good variety, need to stand in a queue to buy everything and so on.
      Now the situation in the country is different, but the habits didn`t change. It is normal to cook from the leftovers - and the result is getting very tasty.
      Leftovers and portion control are the choice of every smart person.

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    • 17. At 04:11am on 21 Jun 2013, LUIZpessoa wrote:

      I never waste food because I've felt so much hungry in my life.

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    • 18. At 1:12pm on 21 Jun 2013, Mika wrote:

      I was born in at 36 years ago in that period we didn't have enoght food for eat all so no snacks in my childhood . My family lives low conditions .we were growing stuff from field I knew that was very difficult and hard work .never wasting foods
      Nowadays condition is changing but we also keeping good custom. never wasting food .

      How many people was no food in the world . We should save the money then help those people .

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