Did you know an estimated 30-40% of the food supply in the U.S. becomes food waste? Although food waste is a worldwide issue, the U.S. discards more food than any other country in the world — 40 million tons or 80 billion pounds to be exact. With over 35 million people suffering from food insecurity in America, tremendous amounts of food are being wasted daily while millions of Americans face hunger and are unable to fulfill this basic human need.
But where is all this food waste coming from? You may be surprised that much of it is happening in your own kitchen. Approximately 43% of food waste happens in the home; think food spoilage and misunderstanding of expiration labels. Another 40% comes from restaurants, grocery stores and food service companies. About 16% comes from farms themselves and the remaining 2% from manufacturers.
If Americans continue on the same path, the consequences of food waste can be even more devastating than they already are; but conquering this issue can have a profound impact in multiple ways. Benefits of reducing food waste include saving money from buying less food, reducing methane emissions from landfills, lowering your carbon footprint, conserving energy and resources and helping combat food insecurity. Since 43% of food waste happens in the home, with research revealing that the average American wastes about a pound of food a day, even the smallest personal effort can make an extraordinary difference for your wallet and the planet.
Our experts chatted with Celebrity Chef Andrew Zimmern, who has partnered with GH Seal Star ALDI on educating consumers on ways to reduce food waste at home, to bring you simple and effective tips for minimizing food loss in your very own kitchen. Zimmern recommends tackling just one or two of these suggestions at a time to make the changes manageable and effective.
1. Reduce fridge space
Zimmern's top food waste reduction tip starts with assessing your fridge space and storage. He recommends removing a shelf or drawer from your fridge which he says can encourage you to buy less and waste less. This no-cost solution is especially helpful for oversized fridges and may make you think twice before purchasing excess items at the grocery store.
2. Write a list
Reducing food waste in the home really starts at the supermarket with our food purchases. We're big fans of learning how to meal prep at Good Housekeeping, and planning your meals for the week means you can ace your shopping list to buy only the ingredients you need. While in the store, don't be tempted by offers and definitely don't shop when you're hungry — or you'll come back with more than you need or want. Zimmern recommends creating a shopping list tethered to a three to four day meal plan, which will help you save money and make fewer impulse purchases at the grocery store.
3. Think before you bulk buy
We love a good deal as much as the next person, but when it comes to food shopping, don't overload your cart with random items you don't need. Remember, that five dollar bag of avocados is only a steal if you use them all up before they go bad. If you must buy ingredients in bulk, make sure it's something you're 100% going to use up or something that can last a long time. The same principle applies with "on sale" items; if you are likely not going to use it, even the sale price can be a waste of money.
4. Shop your fridge
How many times do you do a grocery run before checking your pantry and fridge stock first? Always do a quick inventory before shopping. We've become pros at shopping and cooking from our pantries and fridges (and making the best pantry recipes, too!) as we've cut back on trips to the grocery store, so use those skills to your advantage, rather than making unnecessary purchases. A humble can of beans, for example, can become a delicious black bean recipe to make the best weeknight dinner in minutes. Bonus: diving into your freezer before heading to the grocery store can save you a trip (and ensures no freezer-burned food!). Learn how to defrost meat safely, and turn that backup pound into a flavor-packed ground beef recipe.
5. Understand food labels and dates
"Best by," "use by," "sell by,"... what does it all mean? The confusion around expiration labels is why more than 80% of Americans discard perfectly good, consumable food with the fear that the food may cause potential foodborne illness. Zimmern says it is important to think before you toss out and learn more about what food labels and dates really mean. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) breaks down food product dating phrases as follows:
A "Best if Used By/Before" date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
A “Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
FSIS says that a food product (with the exception of infant formula) should still be safe and wholesome to consume past the date if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident. Signs of spoilage to look for include an off odor, flavor or texture in which case the food should not be eaten.
6. Store your food properly
Rotten or spoiled food is the ultimate bummer. If food is not stored or handled properly, food spoilage can occur much faster. The easiest way to avoid food waste is storing your produce in ways that preserves freshness. Here's a handy guide to choosing the best food storage containers. If you have extra fruits and veggies, freeze or preserve them so you can savor their deliciousness for weeks and months to come. If you only eat a small amount of bread, freeze the loaf when you get home from the store and take out a few slices a couple of hours before you need them. Better yet, turn stale slices into the best breadcrumbs ever!
Always store bananas, apples and tomatoes by themselves, since these items emit natural gases that can spoil any produce around them. Foods that languish, like broccoli, cauliflower and celery stalks, should be eaten first. For items like berries, wait to wash them until right before you eat them to prevent mold. And virtually any fruit and vegetable can be frozen and added to smoothies.
7. Rotate items on your shelf
When you buy new food from the store, bring all the older items in your cupboards and fridge to the front. This first in, first out principle can be applied to the fridge, freezer or pantry. By putting the old stuff in sight, you run less risk of finding something moldy or past its prime in the back. Make this even more effective by taking a marker and writing out the expiration date on top of cans or containers so you have a visual reminder of when the item needs to be used by.
8. Cook smarter
Does your recipe only call for half an onion? Save the other half for soups, stews and scrambles. That gorgeous bunch of carrots from the farmers' market? Save the tops and make a pesto. Vegetable scraps are great to keep in a bag in the fridge and use to make stock says Zimmern. There are always great ways to turn what you may think of as food waste into something new.
9. Track your trash
Zimmern recommends keeping a pad of paper in the kitchen and writing down items that go bad and are thrown away. He says that you'll be shocked after a few weeks when you start to see trends that you can address and correct. If that bunch of bananas is spoiling every week and getting thrown in the garbage by weeks end, consider buying less at the grocery store or slicing those bananas and freezing them for smoothies before they spoil.
Simply put, compost refers to organic material that can be added to soil to help grow plants. What do we mean by organic material? Fruit and veggie peels, eggshells, tea bags, fruit pits and the like. Basically everything you're used to chucking in the trash. Here's a handy guide to composting at home. And if you live in a small apartment, the thought of food scraps on your counter can seem like a nightmare. Just freeze 'em and find a local compost drop, like a community garden or farmers' market. Below are some helpful links to help find a drop off near you:
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