Your obsession with fresh food can cause wastage

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Your obsession with fresh food can cause wastage

An unimaginable amount of perishable food items are wasted every day in the UAE. This is because most consumers are so obsessed about freshness of food that they refuse to buy products dated a day or two before the date of purchase.

By Sajila Saseendran/senior Reporter

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Published: Tue 17 Feb 2015, 12:57 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:27 PM

Dubai — Tens of thousands of litres of milk, and huge volumes of bread and other perishable food products are wasted every day in the UAE, thanks to consumers’ obsession with freshness of products and lack of understanding about the thumb rules regarding shelf life.

A large number of people in the UAE are so obsessed about freshness of food that they refuse to buy products dated a day or two before the date of purchase, albeit the products being safe to consume and being well within the shelf life.

However, these consumers, who hardly know the implication of their attitude, are paving the way for fresh food products going waste, food safety officials and professionals from the food industry have observed. In the long run, this can also boomerang on the consumers as hike in prices for the wasted categories of food products, the officials warned.

A senior official explained the scenario to Khaleej Times taking fresh milk as an example.

“You go to the supermarket and take the milk bottle. You see it is not produced today, but yesterday. You don’t want to go for that bottle which will be good enough for another three days. You buy only the milk produced today,” said Dubai Municipality Food Control Department’s senior food safety expert Bashir Hassan Yousif.  He said such a practice by a lot of consumers, forces companies to pull the products off the shelves in two days.

Dr Ahmed El Tigani, the general manager of leading dairy group Al Rawabi, said dairy products, especially milk, as well as juices and breads are the items that are generally wasted in such a way.

According to Dr El Tigani, an estimated 800,000 litres of fresh milk is produced in the UAE every day. However, two to four percent of this (from 16,000 to 32,000 litres) gets rejected because customers would not buy milk dated a day or two back.

“Although the milk’s shelf life is four or five days, we have put a two-day policy. We take back the product after two days. We know the consumers will not buy it after two days and then we take it back and dump it.”

Outlets, mainly the large ones, also send back the milk products to producers if they are not moving fresh. Generally, it is only the very small groceries that sell a day or two-old milk to their consumers.

“They sell it because their commission is less. Big supermarkets that sell a large quantity get bigger discount from producers, so they send back the bottles after two days,” said Dr El Tigani.

Companies are then forced to discard the unsold milk as municipal waste. “We spray the bottle from outside with black paint so that nobody can resell it … and send it to the municipality. They take it to the landfill,” he said.

He added that most companies keep aside up to four per cent of their budget to compensate this “replacement” of products. “Some companies even set aside four to six per cent of their budget.”

Asked why the fresh milk can’t be donated or sold at cheaper rates to poor workers at least, he said: “We cannot vouch for the refrigeration standards in all shops. There could be outlets which may not have met the refrigeration standards, which can in turn affect the quality and safety of the product. So, we cannot resell or donate it to workers.”

Yousif said consumers should change their attitude and think about the environment and resources of the country.

“Nobody thinks about the water needed for food products produced here … It is high time we thought of this indirect way of food wastage which can in a way affect the food security and environment of the country,” he said.

“Shelf life is not just about putting an expiry day on the label. How you handle the product is also very important,” Dr El Tigani added, calling for caution from the food establishments and customers regarding proper storage of food items.

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