Food waste is an embarrassingly large problem in most developed countries. About 40% of food produced in the U.S. is wasted, while 48 million Americans don’t have enough to eat. About 84% of Americans throw away perfectly good food. It’s bad for the environment, your wallet as well as your conscience. So how can you cut down on food waste? Luckily, it’s easy.
1. Don’t throw food out based on its expiration date!
The federal government does not control the expiration dates printed on food labels. Instead, manufacturers post a guess as to when food will be freshest. That’s right – expiration labels refer to the quality of the product but not its safety. The texture or taste may change slightly, but most foods are safe and nutritious to eat way after their printed expiration dates!
So instead of throwing out your food based on a manufacturer’s arbitrarily printed expiration date, refer to USDA recommendations for meats.
For fruits and vegetables, it is best to go with your own common sense. Does the food still smell good? Is it still free of mold and about the same color as when you bought it? It’s probably still good.
2. Properly store all of your food.
The above mentioned USDA food storage recommendations all assume that you are storing your food properly in the first place.
Lifehacker has an exhaustive list on how to store all of your favorite foods, but in short you can you can store:
- Alliums like garlic and onions, potatoes, bananas, and bread in a cool, dry place like your kitchen counter to maintain maximum freshness
- Dried goods like pasta, nuts, and spices should all be stored in a pantry to minimize light, heat, and humidity from affecting these foods
- Dairy and eggs on towards the top of the fridge where the temperature is the most consistent
- Fruits in a crisper, separate from vegetables. This is because fruits emit ethylene gas that can cause your vegetables to age faster!
- And meats and fish towards the bottom of the fridge where the temperature is the coldest
All perishable foods (think pizza and leftovers) should be refrigerated within 2 hours – otherwise, you risk contamination with illness-causing microbes.
3. Freeze foods for maximum storage length.
Freezing foods is one of the best ways to enjoy fresh, nutritious foods without having to worry about your delicious greens and meat to turn to mush and mold before you can use them up. And the best part is, once frozen, foods can keep safe indefinitely! According to the USDA, “Freezer storage is for quality only. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.”
For maximum quality, the FDA recommends that the following foods be stored for the following times:
You can freeze:
- Raw meats and fish in their packaging. There is no need to cook prior to freezing.
- Vegetables and beans after they are blanched. Clean the vegetables and then place them in boiling hot water for around 2 minutes. Remove them into a pot of ice water to stop the cooking process. Wring them out so that there won’t be a lot of water crystals when you freeze, and then put them into Ziploc bags in your freezer. This is a wonderful way to enjoy seasonal spring produce year round!
- Fruits for use in smoothies or cooking. This is another great way to get servings of fruit every day, year round! However, this won’t work for producing fresh slices of apples of pears. Freezing changes the texture of the fruits so they just won’t be great unless you are cooking them or using them in a smoothie.
- Casseroles and soups. Do this, and you’ll have a ready-made meal prepared for a busy day when you don’t have much time to cook.
It is important to note that the proper way to thaw food is in the refrigerator. This makes sure that your food never reaches temperatures in which bacteria will grow and make your food unsafe.
4. Shop smart.
Before you make a grocery list, make a list of meals that you plan to cook during the week. Then, write your grocery list with the ingredients required for the meals you will cook. This ensures that you don’t end up buying food that you do not use!
When you do end up wasting food, try this. It may not seem like a big deal throwing away a few unused vegetables and fruits here and there, but visualize yourself throwing away money instead. Because that’s what you’re doing too.
5. Donate whatever is left.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will still end up with some food that you know you just aren’t going to use. Instead of throwing it away, donate it. AmpleHarvest.org is targeted towards home gardeners with more food than they can use (but it also works for anyone who bought too much food). You can also check out food pantries in your area that are in need of fresh food. I found a food pantry I never knew about before just a few blocks from my house this way!
If you work at a restaurant or are a food distributor, you can use the Food Cowboy app to find charities in your area that are looking for food donations. Plus, donations are tax deductible.
As you can see, it’s easy to reduce food waste starting at home!
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