In recent years, food waste has become one of the most substantial types of human-generated waste. Throughout the food supply chain, issues such as improper storage and transport contribute to the loss of otherwise satisfactory products. However, the waste does not stop there. Food regularly goes unpurchased at grocery stores and other distributors. Another major reason for the food waste problem is consumers, who often allow products to sit in the refrigerator for too long or simply throw away excess food after eating their fill during meals. Each of these factors adds to a global total of more than 1 billion tons of food wasted each year. The United States alone accounts for around 100 billion pounds of this amount, which costs the average American nearly $400 per year.
Recognizing this problem, a number of entities have begun taking steps to reduce food waste and save money. In 2015, one of the largest grocery store chains in the U.S. announced that it would begin selling blemished or “ugly” produce that consumers would normally reject. Other food distributors and restaurants are beginning to make efforts to donate their unused food to those in need. The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture recently partnered with entities in the private and non-profit sectors to set a groundbreaking goal: to cut national food waste by 50 percent over the course of 15 years.
These businesses and government agencies will not be able to reach this goal alone. In order to properly address and overcome the issues surrounding food waste, the vast community of U.S. consumers must also evaluate the way they use products at home and try to throw away as little as possible. You can participate in these efforts by helping to minimize at-home food waste in the following ways:
You should arrive at the grocery store with a shopping list that will help to ensure that you only buy what you need and don’t give in to the impulse to purchase. You should start by checking your fridge to see exactly what you have before shopping so that you do not buy duplicates of items or add to your existing stock of uneaten produce. Then formulate a weekly meal plan and build the rest of your grocery list around these items.
When you’re at the store, it is crucial that you adhere to this list. If you will only need five potatoes for the week, then you should not purchase an entire 5-pound bag. Bulk bins can also help to minimize the amount of food you throw away because they allow you to precisely measure out the spices and grains you will need for the week. Buying only enough food to last you for a few days may cause you to shop more often, but it will save you money on unnecessary and wasted food purchases in the long run.
Don’t mind the sell-by date
For years, consumers have acted upon the assumption that the sell-by date on their food is a mandatory rule. Based on this belief, more than 90 percent of people have admitted to throwing away food after the sell-by date because they were under the impression that the product was no longer safe to eat. On the contrary, labels such as “best by” and “use by” are neither established through government regulations nor are they representative of a concrete expiration date. They are merely suggestions that the manufacturer provides to tell you when their products are at the peak of quality. Even if an item is a few days past the labeled sell-by date, it does not mean that it is unsuitable for consumption. When you are throwing out food, you should rely on your sense of sight and smell to determine whether an item is spoiled or not so that you do not waste perfectly good product.
Store food properly
Proper food storage is another crucial factor that contributes to the longevity of the food you buy. Many individuals turn to their freezer as a means of preserving everything from meat to fruit for months at a time. You can also take one of several other routes when it comes to preventing produce waste. For example, canning and vacuum sealing are efficient ways to eliminate decay-causing bacteria from produce, which will help it to last longer. On a short-term basis, you should learn the proper ways to store certain items so they do not rot before you can eat them. Items such as bananas and tomatoes should always remain separate from all other produce due to the natural gases that they create.
Manage your meals
Mealtime is another common source of food waste. However, you can take numerous steps to minimize what you throw away. One of the simplest solutions is to start each meal with smaller portions. No matter how hungry you are, you might find it difficult to finish a full plate of food and will end up tossing out what is left. Instead, you should start small and return for seconds if you are not satisfied after a single serving.
If you do have food left over from a meal, then you should always save it so you can enjoy it at a later time. Make sure to put a date on food containers so you know how long it has been in your refrigerator. This will save you the worry of wondering if you are eating spoiled food and the disappointment of having to throw it away.
Even if you do not have a garden at your home, composting is one of the best ways to reduce food waste and help the environment. You can compost nearly any type of kitchen waste, ranging from eggshells and vegetable pieces to used coffee grounds. These items provide natural fertilizers for growing plants, and they would otherwise end up in a landfill if you did not compost them. Many areas have drop-off sites where you can bring your food waste and know that it will benefit the crops at a nearby farm.