Let’s Talk Trash: Hacks to Reduce Food Waste at Home

March was National Nutrition Month and the theme this year was to “Go Further with Food.” Forty percent of food in America gets trashed every year, often because people buy too much, cook meals that are too big, or don’t store food properly. Let’s talk about ways to stop wasting so much by making your grocery trips more efficient, keeping your pantry and refrigerator organized, and using “food scraps” that you would normally toss.

Plan meals, follow a shopping list, and shop “refrigerator first”
-Buy only what you need by making a shopping list
-Look for recipes where ingredients overlap
-Plan a couple new recipes a week to avoid making too much and buying too many ingredients—EAT LEFTOVERS
-Eat food before it goes bad. Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more. Refrigerate take-home food within 2 hours. Use within 3-4 days. Reheat to 165 degrees using a food thermometer.

Store food properly
Use "first in, first out" (FIFO) policy: When you get your groceries home, rotate the food already in your pantry and fridge to the front where you can see it, and put what you just bought in the back so that you'll eat your older items first. Keep perishable foods cool (refrigerator 40 degrees or below, freezer 0 degrees or below). Keep fresh food longer: Do not refrigerate potatoes, onions, winter squash, garlic, tomatoes, or bananas. Refrigerate avocadoes, peaches, melons, and nectarines after they have ripened on the counter. Store fruits and vegetables in different produce drawers to minimize the detrimental effects of eythenle gas.

Harness the Power of your Freezer
Many ingredients we buy are thrown away because the recipe calls for small amounts, specifically herbs. Use ice trays to freeze many different ingredients for later use!
-Freeze herbs with water or oil so you can use in recipes later or to infuse water with extra flavor
-Freeze buttermilk, juices, extra coffee, tea, pureed veggies or fruit to use in recipes
-Wrap foods in plastic wrap and place in freezer bags to make single portions that are easy to grab and use
-Freeze fruits and veggies for easy additions to smoothies, throwing on a roasting pan for a side, or blending in soups.

Understand “Use-by, sell-by, best-by” dates
Those sell-by, best-by and use-by dates aren't necessarily an indication of food safety, according to the USDA. Sell-by dates are used to tell stores how long to display a product, fairly set time period before food goes bad. Similarly, the use-by date is an indication of the last day of peak food quality, but food handled properly isn't necessarily unsafe to eat after this date.

Plastic-Wrap Produce or Use Ziploc Bags for Storage
Produce such as cucumbers and bananas now often come wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. It's not a thoughtless ploy to create more garbage, industry experts say. The plastic keeps fruits and veggies from ripening too quickly by slowing the intake of oxygen and the release of ethylene gas. Use Ziploc bags or the bags that produce comes in if you wash them out. However, some fruits and vegetables need some ventilation—use the packaging they come in as a guide.

Written by: Crystal Woods, MS, RDN, LDN