Look in your refrigerator and take stock of what you see. You might see a mixture of fruits and vegetables, some processed foods, and leftovers from dinner the night before. Are you going to eat all of that food before it goes bad? Will your family? Your roommate? If the answer is yes, then you have accomplished something many Americans struggle with – wasting food. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that the average American family does not eat 20% of the food that they buy. Imagine walking out of the store with five grocery bags, dropping one on the ground, and walking away – not exactly something you would do intentionally.
There are a few ways that food waste occurs. “Wasted food” is wholesome, nutritious food that is thrown out in family residences, restaurants, grocery stores, and agriculture processing. This food is discarded due to cosmetic discrepancies, such as being the wrong shape, size, or color to be sold in stores, and if the store or family simply purchased too much food to be consumed. “Food waste” is spoiled food, unfit for human consumption, and uneaten food scraps that most often occur in households. We might leave food in the fridge for a little too long, or we notice that today’s date is a little past the date on the yogurt lid, so we throw it out. We do this out of caution (and because we don’t want to eat expired yogurt), but wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to waste that 20% of food?
Reducing food waste is something that we all can do and benefit from, regardless of social or economic status. You will save money by planning meals and knowing when a product is actually unsafe to eat. And as an added bonus, it’s good for the environment since there won’t be extra food taking up space in the landfill, which generates methane and contributes to the greenhouse effect.
Here are some tips to make to reduce your food waste:
- Not all dates on food labels are created equal. Here are the three most common labels and what they mean:
a. “Sell by” – This date is solely for store shelf stocking, to make sure that all products get time on the shelf. This is NOT an indication of the freshness or safety of the food.
b. “Best by” – This date relates to the taste, texture, and quality of the product, but not to the safety of the food. You can eat the food after this date, it just may not taste how you might expect.
c. “Use by” – This is the date to pay attention to, as it is an indication of the safety of a food product. Be sure to consume the product before this date.
- Be prepared when you go shopping! Plan your meals, make a list, and know exactly how much you need so nothing goes to waste.
- Know how to store your produce. Proper storage will ensure optimum taste and freshness of your produce and make your meals taste even better!
- Remember: first in, first out! Keep track of how long the food has been in the fridge and see what delicious meal you can make before you break open the new items!
So, what are you waiting for? Go raid the fridge!