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5 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Food waste is food that is safe for consumption but consciously thrown away. This article touches on 5 easy ways you can reduce food waste at home. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted (1). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the food in our landfills is more than any other category of waste in our trash (2). 

In 2010, data shows we wasted 133 billion pounds of food, which equals $161 billion in waste (1). 

Apart from the food and money wasted, the following are also wasted in the production, transportation, storage, and disposal of food: 

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Land 
  • Labor 

We all have a responsibility to ensure food that’s safe to eat isn’t thrown away. First, let’s look at the benefits of food waste reduction (1, 3):

6 benefits of food waste reduction. 1) Reduced pollution, 2) save money, 3) reduced carbon footprint, 4) conservation of resources, 5) reduced trash pickup fees, 6) diverted resources to fight food insecurity.

1. PLAN AHEAD

Awareness is in order when you meal plan and grocery shop. You need to be aware of: 

  • How much you eat. 
  • How much you throw away. 
  • What you already have.
  • How you plan to use extras or leftovers. Flex your creativity muscle or research new ways to eat leftovers. 
  • Your impulse buys. Avoid this, especially with bulk items with a limited shelf life. 
  • The size of your party. If your party is for 10, don’t cook for 50. Large quantity casseroles, particularly cream-based ones, tend to be the most challenging to incorporate into new recipes.
  • What foods your family doesn’t eat. If you’re the only one who likes a specific food, especially something perishable, buy just enough for you. Make family mealtime more enjoyable and don’t force-feed your family foods they dislike. Work together on meal planning.

2. FOLLOW FRIDGE & FREEZER BEST PRACTICES

  • Keep fridge temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep freezer temperature at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Know what to freeze. Most foods freeze well except for shell eggs, cream-based foods, mayonnaise, and canned foods. 
  • Seal frozen foods tightly to maintain quality and avoid freezer burn. Cut freezer burn areas away before cooking. Food with heavy freezer burn should be tossed.  
  • Understand the difference between safety and quality. While most frozen foods can safely last a long time in the freezer, understand that quality diminishes over time. 
  • Use the USDA’s freezer storage chart if you’re concerned about quality
  • Avoid storing perishable foods in the fridge door where temperatures fluctuate more.
  • Use the USDA’s storage time for refrigerated foods chart.

3. STORE FRESH PRODUCE PROPERLY

  • Fresh produce sensitive to moisture loss should be kept in the crisper drawer in a high humidity setting.  This cuts off airflow.  Most vegetables, especially those that could wilt, should go here. 
  • Most fruits can be stored in a low humidity setting in the crisper drawer. 
  • Fruits that release ethylene gas as they ripen can potentially spoil foods nearby faster. These include apples, avocados, bananas, and pears.  Store them away from other foods. 
  • Wait to wash berries and grapes to prevent mold growth. 
  • Don’t overbuy on fresh produce. Mix it up with canned and frozen produce and learn how to make smoothies. 
  • Consider storing produce in see-through containers and place them at eye level in the fridge so you’ll eat them. A healthy habit and no waste is a win-win! 
  • Eat the skin on fresh produce. The skin contains just as much, if not more fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. Peeling is a time-waster, too. Eat more nutritiously, save time, and reduce waste — triple win!
  • Add the zest of citrus fruits to salad, salad dressing, ice cream, and chocolate.
Reduce waste and eat the skin of these fruits and vegetables: apple, kiwi, mango, peach, persimmon, beets, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, potato, radish, zucchini.

4. FOLLOW FIFO

FIFO stands for: first in, first out.  Consume the earliest purchased foods first. Here are 4 organizational tips for following FIFO:

4 organizational tips for following FIFO (first in, first out): 1) store earlier purchased food at top or front, 2) label foods, 3) combine like foods with like foods, 4) understand dates on food labels.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 20% of food waste at home is due to confusion about the dates on food packages (4). 

To stop this confusion, the FDA recommends that the food industry standardize the use of the term “best if used by” — pertaining to optimal quality, not safety (4).

“Sell-by” date is more for stores than consumers. This date tells stores how long they may display foods for sale. 

Predicting when food loses quality is not an exact science. Consume foods approaching their dates. Here are some helpful reminders: 

  • Place foods approaching their dates at eye level. 
  • Store foods in see-through containers.
  • Set reminders in your calendar, phone, or device to eat these foods.
  • Look up recipes that incorporate these foods.

Routinely examine the color, smell, and texture of foods past their date. When in doubt, toss it out. 

5. REDUCE WASTE & DONATE

One last easy way to reduce consumer food waste is to donate.  Donating safe food diverts food waste and puts food on the table for others in need. Anyone can donate food to these places: 

  • Food banks. Find local food banks here
  • Soup kitchens 
  • Food pantries. Find local pantries here.
  • Shelters. Find local shelters here.  

Also, consider donating safe and unopened food to these other places: 

  • School. Are packaged snacks going uneaten? Ask your child’s teacher if you can donate them.  
  • Neighbors. Ask on your social media neighborhood page if anyone needs any of your unopened food. 
  • Your work site’s communal kitchen.

Don’t forget to donate uneaten and safe Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s, and Easter treats, too. 

You’ll have an easier time finding a place to donate unopened dry foods.  This is why following the other tips mentioned is so important: plan and don’t over buy, store food properly, and do FIFO. You won’t have to deal with that half gallon of milk about to go bad. Or a leftover casserole that serves 50.  

How are you a good steward of our food supply and resources? Which of these ways to reduce food waste will you start doing?

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