Food is a valuable resource and it’s often the center of our celebrations and life events so why do we let so much go to waste? The average person tosses about one pound of food per day. Small amounts of food waste may go unnoticed over time but households account for 38% of all food waste, which is more than grocery stores, restaurants, or any other sector.
The true cost of food waste is hidden so each time you throw food away at home or at a restaurant, you are also wasting the energy, resources, water and labor that was used to grow, process, and transport that food to your plate.
For example, the amount of water wasted when food is thrown away can be measured in shower minutes. A pound of bananas that ends up in the trash is equivalent to a 42-minute shower. A pound of ground beef, on the other hand, is equivalent to a shower lasting over six hours!
Reducing food waste is a shared responsibility and we can all play a part in reaching the national food waste reduction goal – to reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030. Changing a few habits in our meal planning, preparation and storage can help reduce food waste at home, save money, and protect the environment.
- Habits take time to build, including checking your kitchen food inventory before going shopping. Shop your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry first to avoid unwanted waste. Make a shopping list based on your weekly meal plan to avoid impulse buys.
- Notice how much food gets discarded during holidays and life events. Serve less food, try a no-food event, or send leftovers home with guests.
- Restaurants serve large portions that could easily be shared or taken home for another meal. Avoid waste when ordering food by sharing meals, asking for to-go containers, or selecting items from the lunch and à la carte menus.
- Make meal prep work for you. Portion out just enough to eat, and freeze the rest in portion containers for quick weeknight meals another day.
- Love your leftovers. Resist the urge to make something new for dinner if you already have food to eat from a previous meal. Think of “leftovers” as “ingredients” and repurpose them in new dishes like adding leftover veggies to a breakfast scramble.
- Use the fresh ingredients first. Nearly half of all fruits and vegetables go to waste so make it a point to use these items quickly before they end up in the trash.
- Push the pause button on your food by freezing it. Freezing food flat cuts down on defrosting time and prevents large ice crystals from forming. Food will remain safe indefinitely but quality diminishes over time.
- Organize food by the “use-by” or “best if used by” dates. Move older foods that are closer to their date in front. This way you are more likely to use them first.
- Keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer by using proper storage techniques. Store your ethylene-sensitive produce (greens, garlic, peppers, strawberries) separate from ethylene-producing items (apples, figs, tomatoes, grapes) whether in the fridge or on the counter.
The confusing amount of date labels on our food packages leads to consumers throwing away good food prematurely. “Best by” and “sell by” dates are used for quality. Food is still safe to eat past these dates. Check out stilltasty.com for “eating past the date” guidance.
April is Earth Month and a great time to take a closer look at the food waste generated at home. Try tracking your food waste for a couple weeks and see where you can make improvements.Creating a zero-waste kitchen could save you $1,500 or more each year and reduce your environmental impact. Show our planet some love in honor of Earth Day, April 22.
Kristin Bogdonas is the Nutrition & Wellness Educator for University of Illinois Extension serving Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark Counties. For more information, resources, and events, visit extension.illinois.edu/hmrs.