The United States is one wasteful country. Did you know that 40% of the food in this country ends up in the garbage can every year? Many people blame restaurants for all of the food waste when, in fact, 44% of all food waste comes from residential households.
Food waste unwrapped
Food waste is a big problem when billions of pounds of food goes into the trash every year, and there are still 48 million people in the United States who live in food insecure homes. Of those 48 million food insecure people, 15 million are children. All we have to do is reduce food waste by 15% and we’d have enough extra food to feed more than 25 million people each year. Bring that number up to 30% and we could eliminate food insecurity with proper planning.
Is your household a part of the problem or are you a part of the solution? How much food gets wasted in your home each week? My home wastes very little food as we plan our meals out carefully, eat our leftovers and if there is anything left over after that, it gets fed to our backyard chickens (which may not be an option based on your living arrangements).
- I once heard Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms speak at a community event. He said that if everyone kept just two backyard chickens, it would have a huge impact on food waste.
- If you don’t have backyard chickens, that may be something you want to look into.
Even if you don’t have backyard chickens to feed your leftover food to, you can still reduce food waste in your home by buying only the amount of food you need, storing your food for optimal shelf life, cooking what you need and composting anything that’s left.
There’s an app for that
Knowing how to store your food properly is a subject many people aren’t well educated in. Fortunately, there’s an app for that! USDA FoodKeeper is a free app by USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service for iOS devices.
The FoodKeeper app gives you the information you need to use the food you buy while it’s a peak quality so you can reduce food waste. Unlike many guides that only talk about fresh produce, the FoodKeeper app outlines timelines for all types of food, including:
- Baby Food
- Baked Goods
- Condiments & Sauces
- Dairy Products & Eggs
- Deli & Prepared Foods
- Food Purchased Frozen
- Grains, Beans & Pasta
- Shelf Stable Foods
- Vegetarian Proteins
Here are a few examples of how the FoodKeeper app gives you recommendations to reduce food waste:
Apples are one of the most commonly purchased fruits. Do you know if you’re storing them for optimal freshness?
- According to the FooodKeeper app, apples will last for 3 weeks from the date of purchase if kept in the pantry.
- If you keep your apples in the refrigerator, they will stay fresh for 4-6 weeks.
- If you want to freeze them, be sure to cook them first, then they’ll last for eight months in the freezer.
Do you eat poultry frequently like most households in the U.S.? Do you know how long you can safely keep fresh poultry in your refrigerator or freezer? There is nothing worse than the smell of spoiled chicken and there’s nothing you can do with it besides put it into the garbage.
- A fresh, whole chicken will only last for 1-2 days from the date of purchase in the refrigerator.
- Comparatively, you can safely keep it in the freezer for 12 months.
- Chicken parts, on the other hand, will only last for 9 months in the freezer.
Who knew there’d be different recommendations for a whole chicken versus chicken parts!
Commercial Bread Products
Bread is a staple in most homes across the country. Do you know its freshness life or do you just wait for mold to start appearing before throwing away or tossing it out to the chickens?
- According to the FoodKeeper app, commercial bread products – including pan breads, flat breads, rolls and buns – will last for 14-18 days in the pantry.
- If you keep them in the refrigerator like we do, commercial bread products will last for 2-3 weeks.
- You can even freeze them for 3-5 months to greatly extend the life. This is a great idea if you’re able to buy bread in bulk for a good price.
Rice – White or Wild
When I was browsing around the FoodKeeper app, I found one entry that was quite interesting to me. We always have rice in our pantry (long-grain jasmine rice is our favorite) so I wanted to see how long we should really be storing it for.
- A sealed bag of rice will store for 2 years in the pantry.
- Once it’s open, you can only keep the rice for one year. I thought it was quite interesting that an opened bag of rice will only last for six months in the refrigerator.
Note to self: always store dried rice in the pantry and never the refrigerator!
Coffee – Whole Beans
Another item I typically buy in bulk is organic coffee beans. Like rice, it appears that coffee beans store better in the pantry than the refrigerator.
- You can keep a bag of coffee beans – opened or unopened – in the pantry for 3-5 months.
- On the other hand, an opened bag of coffee beans will only store in the refrigerator for 3-4 months.
The FoodKeeper app really is a wonderful resource for those trying to reduce food waste. It covers every type of food imaginable so you can learn the optimal times for food freshness.
Of course, you should use common sense when following the guidelines in the FoodKeeper app and understand that they’re not hard and fast rules. Keep in mind that times vary based upon the growing conditions, harvesting techniques, manufacturing processes, transportation and distribution conditions, nature of the food and storage temperatures. Your food may last longer or deteriorate more quickly than the suggested time frames.
Have you used the USDA FoodKeeper app to help reduce food waste in your home?
Feature image courtesy of USDA (Flickr)