If you’re actively involved in dialogues around nutrition sustainability or food insecurity, it’s likely you’ve come across some pretty staggering statistics about food waste in America. While the estimates vary, it is believed that we waste anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of edible food – in 2014 alone, this was equivalent to more than 38 million tons of wasted food. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it is projected “that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash.”
Not only does this waste translate into wasted natural resources, but it also fills up landfills, produces hazardous greenhouse gas emissions, costs families and the nation billions of wasted dollars, and could potentially be one solution for diverting more food to feed families in need.
While federal, state and local governments, farmers, manufacturers, restaurants, retail, non-profits and investors all have a role to play in food waste reduction efforts, each of us can also do our part (not to mention, save money while doing it)! Here are a few tips for reducing food waste at home:
- Understand expiration and use by dates. The “best if used by” date doesn’t necessarily indicate safety of the product, but instead is the recommended date for best flavor or quality. Even if the “best if used by” date has passed on a food, it should be safe to eat after that date if it has been stored and handled properly. For example, if milk is kept cold and stored properly, you may have fresh, wholesome milk for more than a week past the “best if used by” date. On the contrary, the “use by date” is the last date recommended for enjoying that product. Click here for more on code dates.
- Shop your refrigerator first. Cook or eat what you already have on hand before buying more food. Sometimes it helps to keep a running log of stored foods (those in the pantry, freezer, etc.) and any key “use by” or expiration dates. You can then use that log when planning weekly meals – focusing on foods you have at home before purchasing more.
- On that note, meal planning is another great way to reduce food waste. Planning meals and shopping according to your meal plan will keep you from buying more food than you need or can realistically use.
- Buy only what you need. Purchasing food in bulk only saves you money if you can use that larger quantity of food, but bulk purchasing can cost you lots if you end up throwing that food away.
- Store food properly. Did you know that some fruits and vegetables are better kept cold, while others prefer room temperature? Use this guide for storing produce for maximum freshness. If storage of fresh produce is less of an issue than eating it before it goes bad, opt for frozen or canned fruits and vegetables instead.
- Use leftovers and love “planned overs.” Many families find it valuable to plan for a “leftover night” weekly to intentionally use and enjoy leftovers before they must be thrown out. Don’t like leftovers? Plan meals so the leftovers can be repurposed (example: use leftover rotisserie chicken and make enchiladas) – leaving the next meal feeling less like leftovers and more like “planned overs.”
- Use your freezer. Freezing foods is a great way to extend a product’s shelf life. For example, freezing can extend the use of summer’s abundant seasonal produce. Raw meats in excess freeze well for another meal. Every wonder if you can freeze dairy foods? Find your answers here. And use this Keep It Cool chart for ideas about foods that freeze well and recommended freezer storage times.
Will you join me this National Nutrition Month to resolve to waste less food? Together we can we work to feed people, not landfills.