Have you ever looked at how much food waste you generate? Do you ever feel guilty scraping food from your plate into the garbage or compost bin? You’re not alone. Food waste is the single largest item being sent to municipal landfills. The EPA estimated that the amount of food waste sent for disposal amounted to 218.9 pounds per person in 2010. Another way to look at it, the waste coming from consumer and retail levels makes up 31% of the food supply waste. That’s 133 billion pounds or $161 billion worth of food! In 2015, the United States launched its first ever national food waste reduction goal: Reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030.
Fortunately, there are easy changes you can make to reduce your food waste.
Planning helps ensure we are only buying what we need. An extra benefit, you’re not left standing in front of your refrigerator at 5:45pm wondering what to make for dinner. Each week, I sit down with my recipes and make my meal plan and grocery list. It makes for a much easier grocery shopping experience, and the family knows what’s for dinner each night.
So you’re not completely reinventing the wheel each week, you can designate certain days to correspond with meal types. For example, Seafood Sunday, Meatless Monday, pasta on Thursdays, and make sure you plan for a leftover night.
When you grocery shop, try your best to stick to your list. Resist those impulse purchases, and think through bulk purchases. While bulk can be great for large families or feeding big crowds, you might find yourself getting tired of eating the same item you just purchased in bulk, or it may expire before you can finish it.
Freshness Labels and Expiration Dates
There is a lot of confusion over food product dating. You have your ‘Sell By Date’, your ‘Best if Used By Date’, your ‘Expires On Date’ and more. The FDA supports efforts by the food industry to make ‘Best if Used By Date’ the standard phrase to represent when the product will be at its best flavor and quality. It depends on personal preference, but we still eat a lot of pantry items that have passed their expiration date. If it’s something perishable, I take into consideration if the item has been already been opened. Use your best judgement and make sure to carefully look at the label specifics.
How you store your food makes a big difference on how long it will stay fresh. Get to know your refrigerator and where the best places are to store food items. The door has the least consistent temperature, which makes it the best place to store condiments or canned beverages. You’ll find the coldest part of the refrigerator to be the bottom shelves. This is where you should store food like meat, fish, or poultry. The top shelves should be used for ready to eat items or leftovers. If your refrigerator has special compartments like a crisper drawer to control humidity, use it to extend the life of your produce.
Keep fruits and vegetables separated. They produce ethylene which helps them ripen, but may also promote neighboring food to ripen or go limp. Unlike the freezer, avoid overcrowding the refrigerator. This allows cold airflow to circulate.
When I find fruit getting brown or limp, I’ll toss it into the blender and make a smoothie. The kids can never tell, and no food is wasted. You can also freeze fruit or withering spinach for future smoothie ingredients. The freezer is a great place to store baked items such as bread, tortillas, or other baked goods. I don’t notice a change in the consistency or texture of these items.
Stuck with some leftover chicken broth or tomato sauce? These also freeze well, but be aware that they expand as they freeze, and might crack the container they are in. I cannot tell you how many mason jars I have cracked by chicken broth expanding as it cools and freezes! Make sure to allow plenty of space in your containers to account for this, or use plastic ones. If you happen to have leftovers and don’t see yourself eating them the next day, pop it into the freezer for a quick meal later.
If you find yourself buying a clamshell package of herbs, and your recipe only needs 2 tablespoons, you can save the leftovers in your freezer. Chop the fresh herbs and freeze in water or oil, however you think you’ll use it. Use small containers or an ice cube tray for ready to use portions.
One way to extend the life of, or perk up produce is with an ice bath or cold water. Slice off the ends of soft stem herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, basil and place in a cup of water in your refrigerator. Hard stem herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme do best rolled in a slightly damp towel in a bag in the refrigerator.
For items like lettuce, kale, and swiss chard, a quick dip in cold water perks them up pretty quickly. Soak them for about 15 minutes, and make sure you dry them thoroughly if you won’t be eating them right away. Bacteria can grow if water is left on the leaves. Other food like carrots and celery can also be revived with water. Trim the ends off celery and place them in water.
Perhaps the easiest thing you can do is make sure you are practicing first in, first out methods. When you put away your groceries, make sure you are putting the new items in the back or bottom of your shelf or drawers. Use what will go bad first. Some families create an ‘eat first’ bin. It’s an easy to access bin in the refrigerator with food items that need to be eaten quickly before they spoil. Things that are out of sight can easily get lost and then discovered as a brown, soggy pile of mush in your drawer!
Getting a handle on your food waste has so many positive impacts. Not only will you be saving money, but you will lower your carbon footprint by reducing methane emissions from landfills. You will help conserve energy and resources used to grow the food, transport, and then sell it and potentially dispose of it in the end. Make these simple changes and we’ll be closer to achieving our goal of reducing food waste by 50% by the year 2030!