Use-by date is not the same as expiry date

PHOTO: The New Paper

The average Singaporean probably spends more time wondering what to eat instead of whether there is enough to eat.

Food waste is an issue close to the hearts of those at local non-profit organisation The Food Bank Singapore (FBSG), which in April opened a store selling items close to their expiry dates for $1 each.

My Paper speaks to FBSG's co-founder Nicholas Ng, 37, about food issues in Singapore.

WHAT DOES THE FOOD BANK SINGAPORE DO?

FBSG aims to be the prevailing centralised coordinating organisation for all food donations and play a key role in the reduction of food wastage within the whole supply chain.

We hope to bridge potential donors and members to provide access to and knowledge of cheaper sources of food for members, to spread the word on the importance of food resource planning to ensure long-term providence of food for everyone and to look at ways to reduce food wastage by giving food a new lease of life through creative and alternative ways.

WHAT FOOD-RELATED ISSUES ARE MOST PERTINENT HERE?

Rampant food wastage despite relying on imports.

Food security is an issue for up to 10 per cent of the population.

Lack of knowledge of healthy eating among the under-privileged.

Not many people are aware of the food-related issues that we face as a nation.

HOW ARE THESE ISSUES BEING TACKLED?

On our part, FBSG is constantly looking at raising awareness of food wastage and what can be done at both individual and corporate levels.

Although nine in 10 Singaporeans have expressed concern about food wastage, only 13 per cent of food waste is recycled. FBSG has been very creative in implementing new programmes and activities regularly to highlight these issues.

An example is the launch of the Juniors Club to encourage volunteerism from the young in December last year.

HOW DOES SINGAPORE RANK IN TERMS OF FOOD WASTE?

We don't know Singapore's global ranking but Singapore generated 785,500 tonnes of food waste last year.

In terms of knowledge and awareness of the topic, most locals are still quite clueless about this startling statistic and what they can do.

YOU STARTED THE FOOD PANTRY EARLIER THIS YEAR, WHERE ITEMS CLOSE TO THEIR EXPIRY DATES ARE SOLD FOR $1 EACH. WHAT'S THE LATEST ON THAT?

Photo: The New Paper

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The Food Pantry is still running at 100 Sims Avenue. It was set up for the aim of increasing the awareness that food, even those close to their use-by dates, are perfect for consumption.

If more food closer to the expiry date can be consumed, then there will be less wastage.

The same goes for ugly fruit and vegetables.

FBSG is still sourcing for more food donations as not many food companies are donating their excess/close to expiry products.

ARE THERE ANY NEW INITIATIVES FBSG IS WORKING ON?

This year, we started, on a small scale, the collection of cooked food, mainly working with hotels.

We will be actively working with more partners as cooked food wastage contributes a significant amount of waste.

We are also hoping to roll out a recipe book filled with healthy ideas on how excess food can be cooked.

TELL US ONE OR TWO THINGS THE AVERAGE SINGAPOREAN MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT FOOD WASTE AND RELATED ISSUES HERE.

The date stamped on food packaging may not be the expiry date. It may be the "Best before" or "Use by" date.

The shelf life of similar products may differ based on the brands because each processing plant has its own criteria.

There are half a million of food insecure people in Singapore, yet we had 785,000 tonnes of food waste last year.

WHY DID YOU START FBSG?

Having been in the food industry for many years, my sister Nichol and I saw a gap between the amount of food wasted and the number of needy beneficiaries and people in Singapore.

We decided to start FBSG in January 2012 on a personal basis because we wanted to give back to society.

HOW CAN PEOPLE HELP?

The public can play their part by donating surplus food items to FBSG at our warehouse or our bank boxes all around Singapore.

We have an annual event called Project X-pired, where we take expired food products and create art pieces with them. This event is free for the public and is used to showcase what else we can do with expired food products.

lydialam@sph.com.sg

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