5 Tips to Reduce Food Waste And Lessen The Strain On Our Food System

According to the USDA, 31% of food produced in the US is lost at consumer and retail levels. That's over 130 billion pounds and $150 billion in waste. The food could have fed families in need, and the production drained resources and polluted the environment. We all need to do our part to reduce food waste, so here are five tips to help you get started.

Intentional, Frequent, Small Shopping Trips

Buying in bulk is convenient; however, research suggests it leads to more food waste and higher overall costs. To avoid buying more than you need, plan your meals, make a shopping list, and stick to it – no impulse buys! Making several quick trips to the grocery store each week with specific foods and meals in mind will prevent you from stocking up on things you don't need. 

Make sure you've used up all the food from your last trip each time you head out. If you find that certain things are always still around when it's time to shop, consider removing them from your list. 

Don't Throw Out Food Early

Many consumers refuse to eat foods that have passed their "best by" or "sell by" dates and assume they have spoiled. According to the FDA, 20% of consumer food waste comes from confusion about what the dates on packaging represent. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is no federal regulation on food quality dating (except for baby formula).

The "sell by" and "best by" dates represent when the food product should start to lose peak freshness and flavor. Most foods are perfectly edible well after these dates. The best way to know if a food has spoiled is if its smell, look, or taste has substantially changed and become unpleasant or foul. 

Store Food Properly In The Fridge

Every food has an optimal storage method; for many of them, it's the fridge. However, there are better and worse ways to arrange your refrigerated foods to ensure you get the maximum shelf life out of them.  

Some basic guidelines include – 

  • Keeping your fridge under 41°F
  • Keeping raw meat, fish, and poultry on the bottom shelves where it is the coolest
  • Keeping leftovers in sealed containers
  • Veggies that wilt (carrots, cucumbers, greens) go in the high-humidity drawer
  • Veggies that rot (peppers, mushrooms) go in the low-humidity drawer
  • Avocados, apples, bananas, and pears release ethylene gas as they ripen, causing nearby produce to ripen and spoil faster. Store them separately.
Bread sliced
Adopt Long-Term Storage Practices

Fermented foods are popular now for their probiotic benefits, but, like pickling, they have been around for over 4,000 years. Add canning, freezing, drying, and curing, and you have several potential new hobbies that can help you preserve excess foods for years. Moreover, some of these processes give the foods entirely different flavor profiles. For example, dry meats to make jerky, pickle veggies to make relish, or ferment cabbage (with carrots, radishes, and beets!) into sauerkraut. Likewise, turning overripe fruits into jarred sauces is easy, fun, and delicious.

Freeze Extras And Compost Scraps

Freezing extra food can extend its shelf life and reduce waste. For example, fruits and vegetables freeze well. Buying local fruits in season from small growers and freezing them means you won't have to buy fruits out of season from far away. This method helps small producers, reduces emissions, and tastes delicious! Bread and meat are also great to freeze.  

Meal preparation produces scraps that are inedible or unappetizing. Turn them into compost. Seeds, stems, peels, leaves, and grounds can all decompose into nitrogen and nutrient-rich fertilizer for a garden. Even if you don't have one, many cities and towns have composting programs. It's an easy sustainable practice to adopt.

Vegetables in a jar
Key Marketing Takeaways
  • Adopt Sustainability – Food waste isn't the only problem with our food system. Energy consumption, pollution, and social issues plague the current order. Shop local from small, diverse producers to help promote a cleaner, healthier, and more equitable way of eating.
  • Spread the Word – Everyone says they don't like to waste food, but they don't see how wasteful their standard practices really are. Let them know about "best by" dates, canning, and composting to encourage them to think more about food waste.
  • Eat Healthy – Consuming whole, healthy, locally sourced foods in the right quantities will go a long way toward reducing waste system-wide. No unnecessary transportation, plastic packaging, or industrial farming methods are required!