Written by Sarah Huber, RDN, Nutrition Manager at Gleaners Food Bank
Every year, approximately 40 million Americans face the challenge of not having enough nutritious food to live an active, healthy life. At the same time, an average of 197 million pounds of perfectly safe and edible food goes into our landfills every day. In fact, about 30-40% of our food supply never gets eaten. Picture this - you go to the grocery store to do your weekly shopping, and you bring home 3 bags full of food. When you walk into your kitchen, you immediately dump one entire bag in the trash. What a waste! This may seem like an extreme example, but it speaks to the alarming and contradicting reality of both food waste and food insecurity in America.
Reducing food waste not only can help consumers save money, but it can also diminish negative effects on the environment (such as greenhouse gas emissions and loss of natural resources) and promote improved food security in our nation and across the globe. Food banks like Gleaners are doing their part to divert all kinds of food from landfills to the plates of millions of Americans who don’t have consistent access to nutritious foods. Follow these 5 tips to learn how you can do your part to reduce food waste at home:
- Buy only what you need. Check to see what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry before going shopping. Make a grocery list and stick to it when you’re at the store, and only buy bulk foods or sale items if you can eat them before they spoil.
- Eat what you buy. Plan to eat foods with a shorter shelf life first, and keep your kitchen clean and organized so you can easily see what you have on hand. Be creative with leftovers or produce past its prime by adding to stews, casseroles, or smoothies. If you notice that you are consistently throwing away the same types of food, buy them less often or look up recipes to use them in different ways.
- Store food properly. Refrigerate or freeze prepared foods within 2 hours of making it, store raw meat and fish separately from other foods, and avoid exposing shelf-stable foods to high temperatures, chemical products, or pests. Wash produce just before using it to prevent mold or faster spoilage that can happen when fruits and vegetables are stored washed.
- Know your dates. Most dates printed on packaged foods are quality dates determined by the manufacturer, not expiration dates. For example, “sell by” dates tell stores how long to display a product and “best if used by” or “use by” dates indicate how long the product will have the best flavor or quality. Most foods are safe past the date listed, but be sure to discard any foods that have an unusual odor or texture, visible mold, or severely damaged packaging. Clearly label and date all foods that you freeze yourself so you don’t have to guess what they are later.
- Avoid the trash can. If you have food that is safe and edible but you just can’t use it, check with your local food pantry or soup kitchen to see if they can take it. You can also share extra food with neighbors, friends, and family members. Create a compost bin to recycle food scraps into rich soil for your yard or garden. Many cities and private companies offer composting pick-up programs if you can’t use the compost yourself.
For more information on storage tips and product dates, click here or download the FoodKeeper app on your smartphone.
Want to test your food waste knowledge? Take the Feeding America “Waste It or Taste It” quiz here!