The cover story of this month’s issue of Food Technology is about food waste, and how the need to reduce it offers opportunities for innovation. It will take all of us working together to solve such an enormous global problem, but we should not forget that we each can do our own part as individuals. Instead of making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, why not resolve to waste less food?
More than 30% of food produced globally is wasted, and much of that food waste occurs at the consumer level. It may seem a bit overwhelming for an individual to make a difference, but there are some simple ways you can reduce the amount of food that you throw away this year.
Shop smart. Make smaller, more frequent trips to the grocery store if a store is along your commuting route. It’s easier to predict within a day or two what you want to eat and how much time you have to eat it rather than forecasting a week ahead of time. Avoid buying perishable food in bulk. It can be tempting to save money on a big bag of produce, but consider how likely you are to eat all of that extra food.
Dining out. Significant waste occurs in foodservice. Order less at restaurants, and be careful when loading up your plate at buffets. Portions are large at many restaurants these days, so consider asking for a package to take your leftovers home. All-you-can-eat buffet restaurants typically will not let you take food away.
Consider frozen food. Fresh fruits and vegetables may sit uneaten in your kitchen until they spoil, but if you buy frozen fruit and vegetables, they will last a lot longer. You can use them to make smoothies, and added ice may not be necessary. The frozen food section of your local grocery store is full of lots of appetizing new options, especially entrées. Frozen dinners have come a long way since the 1950s.
Understand date labels. “Best by” and “sell by” dates are about quality. The only label you should be concerned about for food safety is the expiration date. Create a “use it up” shelf in your refrigerator and put food that is about to expire on the shelf, front and center, to remind yourself to eat it. “First-in, first-out” is common industry practice, and one that many consumers should also adopt.
Store food properly. Make sure the temperature inside your refrigerator is 40°F or less. Organize food in the correct compartments and use sturdy storage containers for leftovers, not the takeout cartons or doggie bag that you brought home. Make sure you know which fruits and vegetables last longer at room temperature instead of in the crisper. Whole tomatoes, bananas, and other tropical fruit should not be refrigerated, for example. Storing celery stalks and heads of cabbage and lettuce in small bowls of water with a plastic bag around the vegetables helps them stay crisp longer.
Use technology. In this month’s cover story, Elise Golan and Jean C. Buzby wrote about apps created to make sure that food available for donation does not go to waste. There are apps such as Fresh Box and Fridge Pal to help you manage expiration dates of the food you buy. You can also use apps to plan meals and create a grocery list to make sure you only buy what you need the next time you go grocery shopping. And your mother was right: you shouldn’t grocery shop when you’re hungry. Try shopping after, not before meals.
Eat what you have. Designate a day or night to make a meal with whatever you have in the fridge. Use leftovers and cook with produce that’s about to spoil. You can even put those ingredients into a search engine and see what recipes come up in the results.
Educate other people. Share these ideas with your friends and family. Spread the word about the easy steps we can all take to make a difference.
Food storage is one of the most commonly requested topics that reporters call upon me to answer as an IFT Food Science Communicator. IFT has developed resources for consumers that you may find helpful too. On our website at www.iftfoodfacts.org, you can find interesting videos about food shopping and storage and links to information about food science in general.
I wish you and your family a healthy and happy new year.
Mary Ellen Camire, Ph.D., CFS,
IFT President, 2014–2015
Professor, Univ. of Maine, Orono, Maine