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Extension > Live Healthy, Live Well > Here's How You Can Help Reduce Food Waste

Monday, August 1, 2016

Here's How You Can Help Reduce Food Waste


By Mary Schroeder, Extension Educator — Health and Nutrition

Did you know that 90 billion pounds of edible food in the United States goes to waste each year? That's the weight of 123 Empire State Buildings!
Image credit: ChooseMyPlate.Gov

The amount of food waste is a growing concern. Wasted food items make up the single largest component of items going to landfills, but many foods tossed out are still safe to eat.

Fortunately, people are making system changes in producing, processing, storing, and preparing foods to reduce waste. And there are things you can do to cut food waste at home, too! Here are six tips on cutting your food waste.

1. Plan and Save Food (and Money)

Plan a weekly menu and make a grocery list with the ingredients you’ll need. Begin by looking in your refrigerator. Are there any foods or leftovers that your family should eat before they spoil? Put recipes on your weekly menu that feature your leftover foods. You’ll avoid throwing out those leftovers — and get the most for what you paid for them.

2. Be a Smart Shopper

Now that you’ve developed your grocery list, stick to it so you don’t buy any food you won’t use. You can also be a smart shopper to prevent food waste. For example, let’s say avocados are on sale, five for $5. Your initial thought is to buy five.

five avocados on a counter
Only buy what you need and can use.

But then you notice the avocados are already ripe. And you remember you have other fresh vegetables and fruits in your refrigerator that your family needs to eat this week. You choose to buy two avocados rather than all five — and you avoid throwing out three because they spoiled before you could eat them.

3. Understand Food Product Dating

The dates on food packages can be confusing. Here are two key things to know:
  • A “sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “best if used by (or before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality.
Many people throw out products after the “best if used by” date expires, thinking they’re not safe to eat any more. But that’s not necessarily the case. Assuming you have stored foods properly and the “use by” date occurred a relatively short time ago, you can still eat those foods. Your goal is to avoid wasting food that is still safe and tasty to eat.

Learn more about food product dating and safe storage of foods from the University of Minnesota Extension Food Safety team: Dates on food products: What do they mean?

4. Get Organized

Foods are less likely to go bad when you eat older items first. Keep your pantry and refrigerator clean and organized, with older items in front and newer ones in back. Label leftovers with content and dates so they can be used within the next few days. Keep a pad of sticky notes and a pen by the refrigerator to make labeling food a habit.



5. Give Leftovers New Life

Give new life to leftover foods that are no longer at peak quality by using them in recipes that hide their problems. For example, add raw, slightly limp broccoli to a salad, or blend overripe fruit into a low-fat smoothie. Also remember to freeze fresh fruits you don’t consume right away so they don’t lose their luster and wind up in the trash.

6. Don’t Toss It — Compost It

Instead of throwing out food scraps, create a compost bin. For step-by-step instructions, see Backyard composting guide. Don’t have a yard? Your city may help you find composting or recycling options that are right for you.

What are your top tips for reducing food waste? Leave a comment and let us know!

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). Let's talk trash.

Updated July 2017.

1 comment:

Maria Thoreson said...

Love the "Let's talk Trash", poster! Only wish it was also in Spanish and other languages.

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