Reducing waste

Understanding food labels: ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates.

You will see 'use by' dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products and ready-prepared salads. Do not use foods or drinks after the 'use by' date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine. Using it after this date could put your health at risk. Remember the ‘use by’ date relies on you storing the food properly, as described on the food label. If you don't follow these instructions, the food will spoil more quickly and you may risk food poisoning.

‘Use by’ dates do not always mean ‘eat by’. If a food can be frozen then its life can be extended beyond the ‘use by’ date. Follow the instructions on the packaging carefully such as ‘freeze on the day of purchase’ ‘defrost thoroughly before use and use within 24 hours’ or ‘cook from frozen’.


'Best before' dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. The 'best before' dates are more about food quality than food safety. When the date runs out it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture. Always store the foods as described on the food packaging.

Eggs are an exception for the ‘best before’ date. Eggs should not be eaten after their ‘best before’ date unless they are cooked thoroughly (both the white and yolk are solid). This is because some eggs may contain salmonella bacteria which can start to multiply, after the ‘best before’ date has passed. This increases the risk of food poisoning, especially if the eggs are not completely cooked. UK produced eggs have a low risk of salmonella contamination and if eggs are thoroughly cooked any salmonella bacteria should be killed.

Frequently wasted foods and how to use them up

In the UK we waste on average 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, the majority of which could have been eaten. For an average family household this is equivalent to throwing away £470 worth of food each year! Many of us do not realise we are doing it, but there are many ways to reduce your food waste. The foods most often wasted include bread and bakery products, vegetables and salad, fruit, drinks, dairy products and eggs, meat and fish products and pre-prepared meals. Using up your leftovers may seem boring and unappetising but there are plenty of delicious meals and snacks that can be made from even the smallest portion of leftovers and save you money too!

Use leftover vegetables to make soup. When you make your own soup, you can add as many vegetables as you like and control the amount of other ingredients, such as salt, stock and fat that you add. Other ways to use leftover vegetables include finely chopping and adding them to pasta, couscous and rice, or adding them to a tin of beans (any beans will work including baked beans, kidney beans, butter beans or pinto beans) and serving with bread, wraps or pittas. Leftover vegetables and potatoes from a Sunday roast can be used for bubble and squeak or incorporated into your own fishcakes.

Overripe fruits? Why not add to milk, yogurt or fruit juice and blend with some frozen fruits to make a delicious smoothie. Alternatively, use them for baking a cake or add some to stews or casseroles, to add a naturally sweet flavour to dishes.


Use up your potatoes in a potato pie, cheesy potato gratin, homemade fish cake, curry, bubble and squeak or try mashing with other root vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and swede. Alternatively, mix in some green vegetables like leeks, peas or spring onion and serve with chopped chives. Other delicious ways to use up potatoes include savoury potato skins, breakfast potato served with grilled sausage, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms or thinly sliced potatoes in a Spanish omelette.


Left over bread starting to go stale? Try making your own breadcrumbs and use for coating fish or chicken, or for a delicious crispy topping on a pasta bake. Alternatively freeze those breadcrumbs for later and use for a homemade stuffing with your Sunday roast.

If you have a fresh loaf which is only just starting to dry out then try sprinkling on some water and bake in the oven for a few minutes – it will taste like a freshly cooked loaf again! If you fancy something sweet, you could use the leftover bread for a bread and butter pudding.

Top tip: If you don’t use bread that often and you have space in your freezer, why not freeze on the day of purchase and take a few slices out as and when you need them to avoid waste.

More ways to reduce your waste

  • Make your own frozen meals by doubling your usual recipes and freezing half. Put chilli, cottage pies, soups and stews in freezer and microwave safe containers, for quick lunches and dinners for those days when you don’t have the time to cook. Soups made with added pasta, rice, beans, lentils or root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips and carrots are tasty, filling and cheap. This may also help reduce gas /electricity bills compared to cooking each recipe from scratch.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes and try not to cook more than you need. Measure out foods like pasta and rice before you cook rather than guessing portions. Not only will it help you to save money, but can stop you from over-eating.
  • Limit eating out. It is often easier to grab meals on the go but remember that you will pay extra for that convenience and risk wasting food you have already bought for the week. If you want to save money and eat healthily, consider bringing your own lunch a few times per week and cut back on dining out when possible.
  • Making your own healthy packed lunch will help to save money, control the amount of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar you are eating and use up any leftovers. Leftovers make delicious, cheap and healthy alternatives to sandwiches, soups or salads, can help you reduce food waste and save you money! See our healthy packed lunch page for more ideas (LINK).
  • Keep a supply of frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables. These have a long shelf life so you can use them as and when you need them, without them going off.
  • Try using cookery websites for recipe ideas, based on what you have left in the cupboards – great for those last few days before you go shopping again. You will be surprised at what you can make with even just a few ingredients!
For more on reducing food waste

Love food hate waste website:


For more information on the sources used in this text, please contact [email protected] 

Last reviewed December 2016.