by Megan Myrdal, RD – Extension Agent, Burleigh County Extension Service
Did you know that 40% of food in the United States today goes uneaten? 40%! That’s almost half of all food in this country! Does that make you a little sick to your stomach? Now, add this to the mix: In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children. That is 1 in 6 Americans. How can this be? We live in the land of plenty, going without want and no question of need. However, these startling numbers are true.
I can say that until recently, I didn’t give much thought to food waste, letting leftovers at restaurants get trashed and frequently tossing produce I had “good intentions” of eating, but it turned a little too soft/overripe and was not the “picture perfect” produce I’d originally purchased. However, I quickly realized food waste has big implications, not only to my wallet but also to the environment. Throwing 40% of our food each year translates into $165 billion in waste. In addition to the financial loss, uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions.
As you might have guessed, a lot of that 40% happens in places beyond our control (restaurants, farms, manufacturers, etc.). However, small food saving acts can really add up. According to an issue statement from the National Resource Defense Council, reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year. That would cover half of the people in America who today are food insecure.
I hope these grave statistics have inspired/scared you into looking for ways to reduce food waste in your daily life. To help you get started, here are 10 Simple Step to Reduce Food Waste every day (Source: TheDailyGreen.com & NDSU Extension Service).
- Write a list and stick to it! – Plan your meals for a week, check the ingredients in your fridge and cupboards then write a shopping list for just the extras you need. Take your list with you and stick to it when you’re in the store. Don’t be tempted by offers and don’t shop when you’re hungry — you’ll come back with more than you need (and that more will likely get wasted).
- Don’t get fooled by the product “expiration” date. – The dates on food products are quite confusing. For example, milk uses a “sell-by” date, but if milk has been continuously refrigerated since purchase, it will keep about one week past the sell-by date on the package. Eggs also use a “sell by” date and are good for four weeks past the date. Some foods are dated using “best by” which is strictly a manufacturer’s estimate of how long the food will remain at peak quality, not how long it is safe to consume. Is that a little TMI (too much information)? Then I suggest using this handy website – www.stilltasty.com You simply type the food in question into the search engine and it will give you guidelines for how long your favorite food (or beverage) will stay tasty and safe, and also where the best place to store it for peak quality.
- Have respect for food. – Remember, food is the essence of life and does not deserve to meet the dumpster. “Buy it with thought, cook it with care, eat seasonally and remember food is precious.” – Alice Waters, chef and cookbook author
- Don’t throw it away! – Fruit and vegetables just going soft can be made into delicious smoothies. Vegetables starting to wilt can be made into soup. When thrown into these mixes, you won’t even know they’re a little past their prime.
- Use up your leftovers. – Instead of scraping leftovers into the bin, why not use them for tomorrow’s ingredients? A steak from last evening’s dinner can be thinly sliced into an tasty sandwich or salad for tomorrows’ lunch. Leftover meat and vegetables from a fajita make a delicious breakfast omelet. Get creative – just because you don’t have a recipe doesn’t mean it can’t become something delicious.
- Rotate. – When you buy new food from the store, be sure to bring all the older items in your cupboards and fridge to the front. Put the new food towards the back and you run less risk of finding something moldy at the back of your fridge or cupboard.
- Serve small amounts. – Serve small amounts of food with the understanding that everybody can come back for more once they’ve cleared their plate. This is especially helpful for children, who rarely estimate how much they can eat at once. Any leftovers can be cooled, stored in the fridge and used another day.
- Buy what you need. – Buy loose fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packed. It gives you the option to buy exactly what you need. Choose meats and cheese from a deli so that you can buy what you want. Remember, throwing spoiled/expired food is essentially throwing dollars down the drain.
- Freeze! – If you only eat a small amount of bread, freeze it when you get home and take out a few slices a couple of hours before you need them. Likewise, batch cook foods so you have meals ready for evenings when you are too tired to cook. Browning large quantities of onions, peppers, celery and lean hamburger and freezing in meal sized portions is a great time saver for spaghetti sauces, taco meat, soups, casseroles and many other options!
Note: It’s very important to maintain a freezer temperature of 0ºF or less to keep frozen foods at top quality. The storage life of foods is shortened as the temperature rises. For example, the same loss of quality in frozen beans stored at 0ºF for one year will occur in three months at 10ºF, in three weeks at 20ºF, and in five days at 30ºF.
- Turn it into garden food. – Some food waste is unavoidable, so why not set up a compost bin for fruit and vegetable peelings? In a few months you will end up with rich, valuable compost for your plants. The resulting product can be used on houseplants and in the garden.
————————————————————————————————Megan Myrdal is an extension agent in the family and consumer science division. She provides research-based subject matter education in the areas of family economics, nutrition, food safety and health and familysciences. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health through NDSU.