How to Avoid Food Waste

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According to a Natural Resources Defense Council report, 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten. Further, Americans toss $165 billion worth of food each year. That’s about 20 pounds per person each month, enough to fill 730 football stadiums annually. Luckily, there are steps you can take at home to reduce the amount of food you waste.

The Consequences

There are consequences to tossing so much food into landfills. First, we are wasting labor and the natural resources that go into making the food. There is also lots of water (of which there is already a shortage!) used to grow the food that ends up getting tossed. This can lead to increased production of methane, thereby increasing greenhouse gases.

And what about at home? Research shows that we waste 15 to 25 percent of food we purchase.

So what can we do?

Make a grocery list: Keep a shopping list on the refrigerator and add foods needed as they run out. This helps you avoid buying duplicates of items you already have but think you ran out of. Also, a shopping list helps you avoid impulse buys — most people tend to make one or two each week, but you should try to avoid making more than that.

Understand food labels: There is much confusion surrounding dates listed on food labels. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, 91 percent of consumers report that at least occasionally they tossed out food past its “sell by” date out of concern about the product’s safety. However, the “sell by” date is the manufacturer’s best guess as to when the food will be the freshest and best quality. It has nothing to do with the food’s safety.

Here is an easy guide to help you understand food label terminology.

Buy the exact amount you need: The food may be on sale, or seem “cheaper” if you buy an entire bag. If the produce is sold loose, then buy the number you need and not a bag. The same goes for grains, bread, cheese and meat.

Practice FIFO: The practice of first in, first out (FIFO) means you always push the oldest product to the front of your shelf so you can use it first. Oftentimes we tend to shove the new groceries in the front, leaving the ones in the back to go a year or even two past their “sell by” or “use by” date. Although those dates are just a guesstimate of when their quality is best, after a year (or two!) it’s safe to say it’s time to toss it.

Eat leftovers: Designate one night a week (or more if needed) as leftover night. It’s a way to easily get rid of the potpourri of leftovers that may be cluttering your fridge and end up in the trash. You can also repurpose leftovers into new dishes like wrapping extra quinoa salad in a tortilla for work the next day or tossing last night’s vegetables into a homemade soup.

Use leftover scraps: When it comes to produce, you can use more of the fruit or vegetable than you realize. Making broccoli florets? Add the stalks to soup! If you have a whole bunch of leftover veggie scraps, toss with beans or lentils in your blender and make veggie burgers.

Bought too many peaches at the farmers market or got carried away at the apple orchard? There are so many ways to preserve produce! You can pickle, freeze, can and dehydrate at home. The National Center for Home Food Preservation describes many of these methods with a variety of specific foods. Just be sure to follow the proper food safety practices.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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