Have you ever found a container of spinach or leftovers in your fridge that had to be thrown out?
Maybe a display at the grocery store convinced you to pick up something that wasn’t on your list, and the item went bad before you could try it?
If you can relate to either of the above, you are not alone as Americans waste approximately 25% of food purchased. With inflation driving up the cost of food, it is more important than ever to make sure we are doing all we can to reduce food waste.
Understanding the problem
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that food waste in this country falls somewhere between 30-40 percent of the food supply. There are many consequences of wasting food that affect our communities, environment, and our wallets:
- Wasting food harms the environment. Most wasted food ends up in a landfill where it decomposes, generating methane gas, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
- Wasting food wastes resources. From farm labor growing food to transportation that often spans hundreds or thousands of miles, to packaging, refrigeration, etc, the impact of wasted food is hard to overestimate.
- Wasting food wastes money. Americans are facing the highest inflation in a generation. The cost of groceries is rising as fast as any common, daily commodity. If the value of uneaten food in the average US household was $1000 per year in 2012, just imagine what that value would be today!
How we can help
The bulk of individual food waste happens when food isn’t prepared while it’s fresh or when more food is prepared than consumed. Adjusting our shopping habits, when we prepare and how we store produce, and eating our leftovers can cut down on your food waste.
At the Grocery Store
The Environmental Protection Agency has outlined source reduction as the most preferred form of food recovery. The best way to do that? Only buy what you will actually eat.
- Prepare a list and stick to it! Base your list on the number of meals you plan to eat at home until the next time you go to the store. If you will likely eat out several times this week, factor that into your shopping list.
- Don’t get sidetracked. Be wary of sales that encourage you to buy more than you need. If you buy two bags of oranges at half price, but only eat part of one bag before they spoil, you have wasted money and food. Sometimes discounted fruits and vegetables are no longer fresh. Check perishable items carefully before buying.
Timely Food Preparation
We often discard food that we didn’t take the time to properly prepare. The fresh produce that seemed like a good idea in the store may never make it to the table if you never had time to prepare it during your rush to get dinner on the table. By preparing perishable foods soon after shopping, you'll be ready to prepare meals later in the week even when time is short.
- When you get home from the store, wash, dry, chop, dice, slice, and place your fresh food items in storage containers for snacks and easy cooking.
- Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit, or meat if you know you won't be able to eat it in time.
Safe Food Storage
Think about the amount of food you are buying. The foods that most often go to waste are fresh vegetables and fruit. Properly storing fruits and vegetables maximizes freshness, makes them taste better, and last longer so that you have time to eat them before they spoil.
My colleague Christina Lewis, RD shared a blog post where she goes into depth about proper produce storage. I encourage you to read her post as her tips are extremely helpful.
Just as in the grocery store, sometimes when you’re at a restaurant, you may overestimate just how much food you can eat. Keep your order realistic and make sure to bring leftovers home and eat them.
- Request smaller portions. Restaurants will often provide half-portions upon request at reduced prices.
- Eat Leftovers. Ask your restaurant to pack up your extras in takeout containers so you can eat them later or bring your own container to the restaurant if you know the portions are large. Only about half of Americans take leftovers home from restaurants.
Even if you practice the tips above, you will inevitably have food scraps. Food scraps make up almost 20 percent of the residential waste stream. What to do with those carrot tops and onion ends? Composting is a great solution. Composting inedible food and food scraps can reduce methane production while also recycling the food’s primary nutrients.
- With minimal effort on your part, you can compost in your back or side yard. Check with your local county or town as sometimes they offer resources to help you get started composting.
- If you don’t have space or time to compost your food scraps, there are a growing number of composting services available. Many will come to you to pick up your compost. You can find a composting service in your area online.
With Earth Day around the corner, why not challenge yourself to reduce your food waste by adopting the tips I’ve outlined above. If you keep it up, you’ll never again have to throw out another bag of soggy spinach!