Tips on Reducing Your Food Waste Impact

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I hate wasting food, but it still happens to me with fresh fruits and vegetables. I will eat leftovers even if it means eating little bits of four different meals at once. Globally, 1/3rd of the food supply is wasted and uneaten, with the rate even higher at 40% in the US. This is bad all over – financially, hunger-wise, and environmentally. At lot of this involves farming, food processing, supermarkets, and restaurants – but it includes us as well. Here are some good tips about how to reduce our food waste by not throwing it away unless necessary.

Marianne Gravely of the USDA Blog writes about double-checking before tossing food from the freezer or pantry:

Food poisoning bacteria does not grow in the freezer, so no matter how long a food is frozen, it is safe to eat. Foods that have been in the freezer for months may be dry, or may not taste as good, but they will be safe to eat. So if you find a package of ground beef that has been in the freezer more than a few months, don’t throw it out. Use it to make chili or tacos. The seasonings and additional ingredients can make up for loss of flavor.

What about the foods in your pantry? Most shelf-stable foods are safe indefinitely. In fact, canned goods will last for years, as long as the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Packaged foods (cereal, pasta, cookies) will be safe past the ‘best by’ date, although they may eventually become stale or develop an off flavor. You’ll know when you open the package if the food has lost quality. Many dates on foods refer to quality, not safety.

Alexandra Sifferlin of reaffirms:

Most consumers mistakenly believe that expiration dates on food indicate how safe the food is to consume, when these dates actually aren’t related to the risk of food poisoning or foodborne illness. […] Eggs, for example, can be consumed three to five weeks after purchase, even though the “use by” date is much earlier. A box of mac-and-cheese stamped with a “use by” date of March 2013 can still be enjoyed on March 2014, most likely with no noticeable changes in quality. […] A strawberry-flavored beverage may lose its red color, the oats in a granola bar may lose its crunch, or the chocolate clusters in a cereal may start to ‘bloom’ and turn white. While it may not look appetizing, the food is still safe to eat.

Maggie Caldwell of MotherJones adds:

Nine out of 10 Americans needlessly throw away edible, unspoiled food based on “use by,” “sell by,” and “best before” labels, according to a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School. […] Learning some of the tips that our grandparents used could be helpful too. For instance, this rule of thumb for eggs: If it sinks in a bowl of water, it’s good; if it floats, toss it out. Obviously, you want to toss anything that looks or smells rotten. In short, trust your senses, not the labels.

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  1. Those statistics are rather appalling. A third of our food supply going to waste is just awful. Couldn’t agree more though, each of us has an obligation to minimize food waste to the best of their abilities and as you point out, trust our instincts and not many of the misleading labels.

  2. I’m guilty of keeping food around long past use-by dates, both on the shelf and in the fridge. But if your fridge and freezer are cold enough, food does keep longer and better. I have used eggs up to 9 months past the use-by date. I use the sniff test to determine if anything is okay to eat: crack the egg and sniff it — if it smells okay, then it’s fine to use. The sniff test also works when the use-by date lies. As an example, I had a package of oatmeal on the shelf. The use-by date was still several months in the future. I opened the package and sniffed — the odor told me the oatmeal was already rancid, so it went in the trash.

  3. Frugal Friend says

    I have revived tortilla chips, graham crackers and others that lost their crunch by putting them on a cookie sheet in the oven at about 300 degrees for a short while. After they cool they are crisp like fresh again.

    Whole grain foods, such as brown rice and whole wheat flour, should always be kept in the refrigerator to keep them from going rancid. They are much more perishable than white rice and white flour. (and more healthful)

  4. I have saved several avocadoes by putting them in a brown paper bag with a banana for a day or two. I believe this works for other fruits, but I have not done that.

  5. I use the website “Still Tasty” to check on how long stuff is good. It’s very complete.

  6. It kills me to throw out food…it literally feels like I am tossing out money. I wonder why there isn’t a bigger push towards education? If I were a conspiracy theorist I may say b/c there needs to be food turnover for grocery stores, farmers, etc.

    • Evan, Conspiracy theory or not, I believe the dates are set based on a couple of factors. The first being what you hint at. They want the turn over. It’s not profitable if no one is buying. If they can get you to buy more, then they make more.

      The second, however, is that I think they want a “Date” that is clearly a “Safe” date. Like Eggs. Someone stated that they used eggs several months after the expiration date. While others have had eggs go bad much sooner. There are many factors that can impact this such as the process, storage, age, etc… As the article suggest, we should trust our senses, but legally, the companies cannot count on the consumer doing so. So to protect themselves, they must use a date that will be SAFE for most (if not all) of their product.

      I trust my senses… my wife trusts the date even though I constantly tell her to trust her senses.

  7. Elizabeth Gilbert says

    I don’t like throwing food in the garbage too. What I do to reduce the food waste is to buy small quantities of products. For example I buy products for two or three salads and then I go to the grocery’s again. I prefer doing that because I do not throw anything and I have fresh veggies every single day.

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