Canadian families are now spending $800 a year on food waste, expert says

Avoiding overcooking, eating leftovers and storing food properly can reduce food waste

When Paul van der Werf led a study on food waste four years ago, he found Canadian households lost $600 annually on food they don't eat.

But now with inflated food prices factored in the equation, van der Werf, an adjunct professor at Western University, estimates that the number has increased to about $800.

As the study's lead author and researcher, he spent hours of time digging through people's curbside garbage and taking notes on things they had thrown away.

He found inedible food items like egg shells, banana peels and chunks of stale bread, but that's not all.

"It would just blow your mind," said van der Verf. What surprised him most was food thrown away before it was even taken out of the packaging, like chocolates, candies, whole chickens and other unopened packages of meat.

Seeing such a significant amount of food being thrown away worries Jane Roy, executive director at London Food Bank, who said she's seen a troubling 43 per cent increase in people coming in for food essentials since last year.

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"I think that just shows a failure on all of our parts," said Roy. "I look sometimes at the food waste that we have at home, and I'm constantly trying to preach to my kids about…leftovers and only buying what we need."

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A.J. O'Connor, owner of Lynn's Bakery Deli & Catering in London, Ont., said it's not uncommon to see people digging through the dumpsters outside the bakery at night.

He was interested in learning how to mitigate food waste when local schools in the area reached out to him to request food donations for their breakfast programs about three years ago.

"A day-old bagel isn't going to hurt anybody," said O'Conner. "So I thought that this would be a great option for me to reduce my waste and give it to [schools] instead of nobody."

O'Connor estimates that Lynn's Bakery donates "thousands" of dollars worth of food every year to the schools.

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Simple solutions to mitigate food waste

Verf said there are simple solutions to mitigate food waste such as creating grocery lists, avoiding overcooking, eating leftovers and storing food properly.

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It's also important to use your own judgment to see whether food is safe to eat instead of relying strictly on expiry dates.

"So take a look at those dates, use it as a guide, but then…use your own senses, your sight and smell to understand what the state of your food is."

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This article, written by Arfa Rana, was originally published for CBC News.

Header image: File photo courtesy of Getty Images. Used for illustration purposes only.