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  • Stephanie Montevecchi, RD

10 Ways to Minimize Food Waste


"Finish your vegetables, there are starving children in (country of choice)!" was a common phrase many of us heard growing up. Hunger continues to be an issue both in the US and around the world. More recently, the effect of wasting food on climate change was brought to light. Companies like Imperfect Foods and others have shed even more light on this topic with their mission to repurpose food commercially. The truth is, food is a precious resource and we should do our best to minimize wasting it.


In 2010 the USDA estimated that 30-40% of food was wasted both at a commercial level and in the household. In 2010, 31% of the US food supply equaled ~133 billion pounds and cost $166 billion. The EPA figures ~218.9 lbs of food were wasted per person in 2010. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1/3 of the global supply of food is lost or wasted. It is the goal of the USDA to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030, but this can only be met if everyone participates. Keep reading to learn more about food waste and what you can do to reduce it.

What is food waste?

Food waste is the reduction of quality and or quantity at a retail or in-home setting. This means unsold food from grocery stores as well as spoiled food in our refrigerator. This happens in a number of different ways:


- Food is removed from the supply chain because it has a weird shape, color, or size and is taken out during the sorting process.

- Retailers and consumers remove food that is close to its best by date or has passed the best by date.

- Food that is still edible, but is unused or leftover and discarded from our kitchens, restaurants, and other food retailers.


How does food waste affect the environment?

-Reducing food waste can decrease methane production from landfills.

-It saves resources like water, land, labor, and energy. Food production uses a lot of resources to produce and when we waste food, we waste those precious resources as well.


What can I do to reduce food waste?


1) Repurposing Left Overs

Reuse the rice leftover from last night's meal for another meal. Leftover veggies can be easily added to stir fry the next day. Both veggies, grains, and meat can be used to make stews and soups. Leftovers can be used to make dog and other pet treats as well!




2) Make a List


Grocery lists can help reduce buying unnecessary items and save money $$! Take the time to plan out what meals you would like to make for the week and write out your ingredients. It is even better if you can find recipes that use similar ingredients that would otherwise go to waste. My nemesis is heavy whipping cream! I have three recipes I try to make in the same week so that I know I will use it up.



3) Freeze excess before it goes bad


If you know you will not go through all of the fruit, veggies, and meat you bought before it goes bad, portion it into single servings and freeze it. Berries are a great example of this. They are hard to buy in small portions and are easy to freeze and use in smoothies, desserts, or overnight oats. Vegetables work great for this too! I will cut up carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers and toss them into the freezer to later use in a stir fry or soup.

Bonus: I love using reusable ziplock bags like stashables or similar products as freezer bags to reduce waste even further!





4) Understand best-by dates vs expiration dates


Believe it or not, the FDA does not require expiration dates on food products, but it does have guidelines for their use that must be followed. The only exception to this is infant formula. Many products are still safe to consume past the best-by date. It is best to inspect food before consumption every time. Food can spoil before these dates if not stored properly, or it could be safe to eat after the best-by date.


Best-by dates: Many manufactures label their products with best-by dates to inform the consumer (us) when the product will be at its best quality


Sell-by date: This is a guide for sellers for when to remove it from their shelves. It is not indicative of quality or safety.


Use-by date: Similar to the best-by date, it informs consumers at what point the product will be at its best quality. The only exception to this is infant formula which should not be used past the use-by date.


Freeze-by date: This indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain best quality. It is also not a safety label.


Signs of spoiled food:

- Smells bad or weird

- Tastes "off" or has a weird texture

- Has visible signs of mold (white, blue, green, or black coloration not normal to the product).


When in doubt throw it out can apply here when looking for cues of food spoilage. Just don't rely solely on the best-by date provided by manufacturers. For more information, check out the FDA Food Safety Education site: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating



5) Repurpose food scraps


Just finished peeling, chopping, or deboning? Save those scraps and freeze them to make veggie or meat stocks for soups and to cook with. These scraps can be used right away or freeze to compile and use at another time.




7) Recipe generators


There are these amazing websites that will help you piece together recipes with the odds and ends food you have in your pantry. I love using these when my refrigerator starts to get low or right before my next grocery trip. Here are a couple of examples:



MyFridgeFood: https://myfridgefood.com/search-by-ingredients


SuperCook: https://www.supercook.com/#/recipes (also has an app!)


6) Portion control


So you found an amazing recipe and cannot wait to make it! Before getting started, be sure to check the number of servings it makes and their sizes. If you are planning on eating only a fraction of the servings it makes, scale it down! Divide the servings by how many you would like to make and reduce the ingredients accordingly. This way you buy less (save that dough!), have fewer leftovers and are wasting less.



8) My favorite, Share!



When you find yourself with a surplus of canned goods, frozen goods, or even an abundance of harvest from your garden, share it! Offer it to neighbors, friends, family, or even your local shelters. I personally love to bake, but I know I will not eat an entire batch of muffins, so why not bring it to work to share your bounty with your co-workers, or your elderly neighbor? I used to work at a chiropractic office and our patients would generously share their fresh produce from their gardens with us, but sometimes it was even too much for myself and co-workers to use. I would drop off any leftovers at our local homeless shelter or soup kitchen and they were more than pleased to take it off my hands! Food is love, so feel free to spread it around.


9) Store food properly


Be sure to store food properly to reduce spoilage. Keep cold food cold and hot food hot when preparing and serving. Bacteria grows quickest between 41-135* F. Read the manufactures instructions on packaging or their websites to see how best to store different foods. Not all produce does well in the refrigerator. Examples of these are bananas and raw unchopped onions.



10) Compost


So even after doing all of these things, there are still going to be some food that falls through the cracks in each household. When cleaning off your plates, clearing out your pantry or refrigerator, or tossing out spoiled food in your garden, please be sure to compost. Personal compost piles can be a great way of producing your own nutrient-rich soils for your garden. It can also be done even if you do not have the time, space, or desire to maintain. Compost bins are easy to keep in the house and dispose of in the green can from your waste management company. By composting, you are reducing the number of greenhouse gases produced at the landfill, and helping create healthy soils to replenish what was taken from the earth to produce the food you enjoyed.


Food waste continues to be a major issue globally and there are plenty of things we can do to help prevent it.


References:

“FSIS.” Food Product Dating, 2 Oct. 2019, www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating.


“OCE: U.S. Food Waste Challenge: FAQ's.” USDA, www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm.

“Sustainable Management of Food Basics.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 13 Nov. 2019, www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/sustainable-management-food-basics.


“Sustainable Management of Food Basics.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 13 Nov. 2019, www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/sustainable-management-food-basics.

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