Monday, April 10-Sunday, April 16 marks Food Waste Prevention Week 2023, a push to support a healthier environment and help families save money by educating the public about reducing food waste at home, work and in their communities. Food waste is one of the biggest environmental problems, with 40 percent of all global food supplies (approximately 2.5 billion tons) being wasted or lost around the globe every year. Most of it ends up in landfills and as it decomposes, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
Food waste happens at every stage of our food system, with the largest portions occurring in peoples’ homes (37 percent) and on farms (21 percent), as well as in food service (restaurants and institutions), retail and manufacturing. While there is no single solution to food waste, we can start making a difference at home by being educated and working to reduce the waste that costs Americans an estimated $218 billion annually.
Plan meals, check the fridge and pantry before you shop, use shopping lists, purchase accurate quantities and avoid impulse buys. It’s easier to be drawn into impulse buys if you’re hungry so make it point not to grocery shop hungry and stick to your list. Think about what, if any food you’ve thrown away before you shop again to avoid repeating that mistake.
Properly store foods
Store food that will go bad soonest in a visible part of your fridge or pantry and keep track of what you need to use up before it goes bad. Avocados, bananas, pears and tomatoes will ripen on the counter, however they are happier alone so keep them away from each other and they will last longer. Once ripe, avocados and pears can be stored in the fridge for a few days longer. Onions and potatoes both like a dark place but keep them away from one another as well.
If your milk, cheese, meat and eggs are getting close to spoiling, freeze them. Freeze milk in small containers. Cheese, especially softer cheese, freezes best once it’s been shredded. Blocks of cheese can be chopped into smaller portions and wrapped twice in plastic or freezer bags. Meat will also do better being frozen when double wrapped. Make sure to label and date everything so you don’t end up playing the “is this a hunk of meat or a hunk of cheese” guessing game when you open the freezer. Eggs frozen in their shells will explode so make sure to crack them into a container first.
Utilize fridge space
The temperature in your refrigerator varies, with the refrigerator door being the warmest part of the fridge and the bottom shelf being the coldest. The door is a good place for condiments and should not be used to store anything that is even moderately perishable, including eggs (even if there’s a built-in compartment for them). Foods with a higher safety risk–meat, poultry and fish–should be stored on the bottom shelf in trays to contain any drips.
Many vegetable drawers have adjustable levers allowing you to control the humidity level. Veggies that are most prone to wilting–leafy greens, broccoli, carrots–will do better in a high humidity drawer. Other vegetables and fruits–those that have a tendency to break down and rot–do better in a low humidity drawer. These are ones like mushrooms, peppers, apples and berries.
Put leftovers in a closed container, clear glass or plastic are the best so you can see what’s inside, and eat within two to three days. If there is still more left, use an airtight container or two freezer bags to save them in the freezer. Having a ready-made meal you can pull out of the freezer can be a lifesaver on a busy day, but make sure to label and date them (unless you like being surprised).
Interpret date labels as estimates
The government does not regulate date labels and there are no rules for how dates are set, leading to inconsistent usage and a misunderstanding around label meanings. “Use By,” “Sell By” and “Best if Used By” labels are determined by the manufacturer and are suggestions related to the quality, not when they need to be discarded. Most foods are still safe to eat for a period of time after their stamped on dates: yogurt and cheese seven or more days, eggs three or more weeks and canned/boxed food three or more months.
For more tips and to find events taking place, visit foodwastepreventionweek.com.