The topic of food waste has gained much-needed attention over the last few years and everyone from food manufacturers to retailers to consumers are guilty of contributing to the overall problem.
Statistics show that in the U.S. alone 60 million metric tons of food is wasted each year, of which about 40 million metric tons of it end up in municipal landfills.This represents between 30 to 40 percent of the overall food supply and the single largest component in landfills.
Once these foods become refuse, they give off harmful methane gas negatively impacting climate change and the planets’ natural resources.
Food waste facts
The figures are alarming and while many of us only have control over what happens at the domestic consumption stage, it is important that everyone does their part to reduce food waste in their daily lives. In addition to understanding the impacts of food waste, we need to understand exactly when food really should be discarded. Presently, no regulations at the Federal or State level regulate food safety except in the cases of baby food and infant formula, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends being consumed by the use-by date.
Consumers will err on the side of caution and not buy food products with fast approaching sell-by dates. They interpret sell-by dates as the date food should be consumed by and no longer purchased rather than the store shelf life – the last date the store should display the product for sale. Without the proper guidance, they don’t know that if properly stored, foods can safely be eaten a few days past their sell-by dates. These same consumers are also likely to discard food items in their homes well before the products have spoiled. According to Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, 90 percent of consumers either always, most of the time, or occasionally throw food out when that sell-by date arrives.
These practices can translate to a sizable amount of food waste in a very short period of time. Continuance of this behavior is only going to worsen our current state. To help combat some of this, there’s currently a bill in play in California that proposes to implement long-needed standards in the food industry through the use of two types of labels.
- The first label, “Best if used by,” would be used to indicate when the quality of a product rather than its safety would be at stake.
- The second label, “Expires on” would be used for perishable foods indicating the consumed by date.
Once this becomes law in California, it is anticipated to be adopted in other states to help reduce food waste clarify food labels.
Additionally the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced an initiative to achieve a 50-percent reduction in food waste by 2030. But their goal is two-fold — they also plan to increase food security. By teaming up with charitable organizations and companies in the private sector, the EPA envisions greater access for the hungry and those in need to foods otherwise headed to the landfill. These organizations transport food to shelters, soup kitchen, and food pantries, helping reducing hunger for the 48 million Americans who live in food insecure households.
Waste not, o’ wise one
Want to do you part? Here’s a list of some simple things to implement in your routine to minimize food waste and help achieve the EPA’s goal. The environment and your wallet will thank you.
- Inventory: Take stock of what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Then, make a list of what you really need before heading out to do your weekly shopping.
- Food menus: Create food menus for the week for all your meals — factor in planned lunches and dinners.
- Avoid specials: When shopping don’t be fooled by specials. If you can’t consume one tub of yogurt in the course of a week, what makes you think you will eat three containers this week?
- Stick to your list: Don’t deviate from your list; it’s easy to get distracted in a supermarket — store layouts are designed to encourage impulse purchases.
- Beware of bulk: Don’t buy perishable items like produce, meat, or dairy in bulk — especially if you’re a household of one or two.
- Buying in bulk? If you do buy in bulk, portion out your food immediately after opening. Then store the food using methods that ensure its longevity.
- Rotate food items: As you restock your fridge, freezer, and pantry with freshly purchased goods, rotate the older items to the front so you will use them first.
- Store foods separately: Store bananas, apples, and tomatoes by themselves, and store fruits and vegetables in different bins. Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, making other nearby produce spoil faster.
- Only wash before consuming: Don’t wash fruits and vegetables until you are ready to use them. This helps prevent mold.
- Midweek check-in: Midway into the week, check the contents of your fridge to determine the freshness of leftovers and produce. Revisit your menu plan and rotate meals to use up ingredients that won’t make it to the end of the week.
- Freeze often: Freeze items that are still safe to eat if won’t have time to consume them in the next few days.
- Prep mature foods for cooking: Fruits and vegetables that have passed their prime in aesthetics are still edible and can be used in recipes. Use them to make soup, stir fry, casseroles, or baked goods.
- Recycle the container: If you just can’t salvage something, make sure to remove it from its container and recycle it before throwing out or composting the spoiled food item.
- Compost: Compost any food items that have passed their prime and can’t be used. Make sure they don’t contain meat, oils, or any of the other ingredients that can’t break down before adding it to your compost bin.
- Dining out? When dining out, opt for places that offer smaller plate dishes. It gives you an opportunity to share different dishes with your dining companions and can prevent over ordering. Still hungry? This type of restaurant gives you the freedom to order more during the meal since they let you hold on to the menu.
By buying less and utilizing proper storage techniques, you will be able to keep your ingredients fresh longer, save money, and reduce food waste.
Feature image credit: Rob Marmion / Shutterstock