Reducing Food Waste in Your Home

Did you know that roughly 1/3 of the food produced around the world (about 1.3 billion tons) for human consumption is lost or wasted each year? This number is even higher in the United States where approximately 40% of food goes to waste. These are staggering numbers!

Food loss and waste occurs at every step of the food supply chain - from the farms to the stores to the consumers. Large quantities of farm crops are wasted before they even make it to the grocery store because they’re not perfect in shape or appearance. Restaurants, which boast ever-increasing portion sizes and all-you-can eat buffets, throw away tons of food each year. And as consumers, we’re guilty of tossing large amounts of food in the trash that we purchase and never eat.

Nobody likes wasting food or having to throw away spoiled or moldy produce.  But although we don’t intend to do it, it inevitably happens. The United States wastes about 50% more food now than we did just four decades ago. All of that food ends up decomposing in landfills where it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s contributing to global warming. For all of these reasons, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made it a goal to cut food waste in half by the year 2030. By doing this, not only will the U.S. be protecting the environment, it will also be helping to provide food to millions of families who need it.

Although this is a complex, global issue, there are lots of things you can do to reduce food waste in your home. Here are some tips on how you can make a difference:

Menu planning: Take a little time at the beginning of the week to plan your meals for the whole week. Choose dishes that use up all of the ingredients that you buy so that you don’t end up throwing them away at the end of the week. For example, if you’re buying a whole head of broccoli simply to use a handful in a salad recipe, plan to use up the remainder the next day in a stir-fry dish or a batch of broccoli soup.

Take stock of your kitchen before you shop: How many times have you bought something at the grocery store just to come home and see that you already had that item? Once you plan your menu for the week, take stock of your fridge and pantry so that you don’t buy things you don’t need.

Shop in the bulk bin section:

When you only need a small amount of an ingredient for a recipe, check out the bulk bin section of your grocery store. You can buy only as much as you need and it’s perfect for ingredients like nuts, seeds, spices, and grains. The salad bar is a great place to get small amounts of things like vegetables, cheese, olives, and hot peppers. 

FIFO: FIFO is a common practice in the food service industry that stands for first in first out. It’s a simple method of rotating your food items so that they won’t spoil. When you purchase new items like milk, place the new milk in the back of the fridge and move the older milk to the front so that you use it up first before it expires. This not only helps reduce food waste, but it’s also important in preventing food borne illness.

Store your food properly: Make sure your fridge is set at the proper temperature (40ºF or lower) and learn how to store fresh herbs and produce properly to extend their shelf life. Store fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers to preserve them longer. Don’t wash delicate berries until you’re ready to eat them to prevent mold. Certain fruits, like bananas and apples, should be stored by themselves because they emit gases that ripen other fruits and vegetables around them. Consider storing food in clear containers - if you see them, you’re less likely to forget about them.

Use up every part of the food item:

Try to use up as much of the fruit, vegetable or protein that you purchase. Leafy greens like Swiss chard have stems that are delicious when sautéed. And the next time you buy beets, try adding the delicate greens to a salad. One of the best ways to use up vegetables and herbs sitting in your fridge is to make a large batch of homemade stock. If you purchase a whole chicken, you can add the carcass to the stockpot for a delicious chicken broth.  

Take advantage of your freezer:

If you don’t think you’ll be able to use up a food before it expires, consider freezing it. Plenty of foods freeze well and can be stored in the freezer for several months. You can freeze uncooked items like bread, seafood, tomato paste and even fresh herbs. You can also freeze whole cooked meals like casseroles, meatballs, and soup.

Transform your leftovers: Not a fan of leftovers? Make them more interesting by transforming them into a completely different dish the next day. If you have leftover roast chicken, try using it as a pizza topping or as a filling for tacos the next night. Get creative and have a clean-out-your-fridge meal at the end of each week. You’ll get to use up any items that are getting past their prime and you can challenge yourself - it will feel like you’re starring in your own episode of Chopped!

1/18/2017 10:00:00 PM
Sonali Ruder
Written by
Sonali Ruder, DO is a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician, trained chef, mom, and cookbook author. She is a graduate of Brown University, Midwestern University- Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the Institute of Culinary Education. Dr. Ruder is a contributing writer, recipe developer, and health and w...
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