VENGADESHWARAN SUBRAMANIAM and K. JANARTHANAN
Mrs Matilda Antao hasn't bought vegetables for over a year. The mother of two uses only the "rescued" food items collected by SG Food Rescue (SGFR), which she joined at the start of last year.
"Many of the food items we collect are perfect for consumption and taste no different from the regular vegetables sold at supermarkets," she said.
"I make dishes like bhindi fry and palak paneer and sometimes cook Chinese style as well. My family and I are perfectly healthy."
Food items that are slightly spoilt or nearing their expiry date are most often discarded by shop owners because they find it difficult to sell them.
This food mountain is one of the biggest waste streams in Singapore and the amount generated has ballooned by about 20 per cent over the past 10 years.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) estimates that 40 per cent of food waste in Singapore comes from the commercial and industrial sectors that handle fruit, vegetables, fish and other seafood.
In 2019, 744 tonnes of food was wasted. That is equivalent to two bowls of rice per person per day.
SGFR is committed to "rescuing" unsold food that is normally thrown out by stores.
The organisation was formed in 2018 by Mr Daniel Tay and Ms Judee Tan who started collecting food items from stores in Little India and the Pasir Panjang wholesale market.
Today it has about 350 volunteers and 15,400 members in its Facebook group.
Apart from reducing food wastage, SGFR's aim is also to distribute food to the needy. It runs two operations in Little India - Veggie Rescue @ Little India and Little India Veggie Collection - which collect food from 32 stores every week.
"Many people are not able to buy groceries on a daily basis. So we have been giving to this cause for the past two years," said Mr V. Manikandan, a staff member at Haji M.N. Shahul Hameed Marketing, a shop at Tekka Centre.
Mr Bavani Shankar, manager at the All-India Supermart on Norris Road, said that people generally won't buy products that don't look fresh or are nearing their expiry date. "Instead of throwing them away, we thought they may as well go to some good use and give them to SGFR," he said.
SGFR distributes the collected food to community fridges operated by residents' committees in Toa Payoh, Yishun, Teck Whye, Punggol and Tampines and to soup kitchens such as Willing Hearts and Krsna's Free Meals.
The organisation also works with Food Rescue Sengkang (FRSK) to supply the food to 10 distribution points across Singapore every Saturday.
Charity Sunlove home uses the vegetables provided by FRSK to cook for around 500 residents and distributes the groceries to the needy across the island.
"My daughter works as a cashier to support me. Expenses can get difficult to manage at times. Getting these free vegetables once a week helps us save some money," said Mdm Matammah Jiwaratnam, 85, a beneficiary.
Ms Matilda said quality checks are done before the food is distributed.
"We don't just distribute the food as it is given," she said. "We only distribute food that is safe for consumption.
"A variety of factors can cause food to turn unattractive. How people store and consume food also matters. People should use their senses to judge if food is safe to be eaten."
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