We all need to take part in wasting less food. Finding ways to reduce food waste is just as important for us at home as it is for food producers and retailers. You can make a difference by increasing your awareness of the issue and implementing a few simple changes.
Here are eight things you can start today.
- Be aware of food waste in your home.
Ask yourself, what are the most commonly tossed foods in my house? Think about things like the nubby end of a loaf of bread, sauce left in the bottom of a jar, expired yogurt, luncheon meat, forgotten leftovers, wilted greens, etc. If you’re not sure what you waste, keep a journal for a week and honestly record what gets tossed out that could have been eaten if it were stored or prepared differently.
Becoming aware of our habits and considering alternatives is a good first step.
- Take inventory and plan ahead.
Before heading to the grocery store, take inventory of what items you already have in your pantry, fridge and freezer. It’s best to rotate through all your freezer foods and pantry items every three to six months for best quality and nutrition. If you’ve had a food item for more than a year, plan a way to use it tonight! It’s ok to stock up, but remember to use those items in your meal planning.
- Become Best Before date savvy.
Best Before dates are an indicator of food quality, not food safety. They do not tell us if a food is safe to eat and they are not the best way to decide if a food should be thrown out. Best Before dates are set by the manufacturer based on their own criteria regarding freshness, taste and nutritional quality. There is no governing body that regulates what date a manufacturer puts on a food. Health Canada only regulates where and how those dates must be shown and what products require a date. Furthermore, Best Before dates are relevant on sealed containers only. Once a container is opened, the Best Before date is null and void.
Instead of relying on Best Before Dates, it is better to be informed about safe food handling and make decisions based on what you know about how the food was stored and handled. For example, how was the item stored, for how long and where was it stored? Are there obvious signs of decay? What is the condition of the container? Was the item stored at the correct temperature, humidity and light conditions? How was it handled and by whom?
For more information about Understanding Best Before Dates in Canada visit home economist, Getty Stewart.
- Store food properly.
The enemies of freshness are air, moisture, light and temperature. When you protect food from these elements, it will last longer.
Most fruits and vegetables (except bananas, pineapples, tomatoes and avocado) are best stored in their original package (plastic bag or clamshell) in the fridge rather than a fruit basket. Only put out a few at a time to encourage healthy snacking. Keep potatoes and onions separate from each other in a cool, dark place.
Opened packages of meat and cheese should be well wrapped and kept in an airtight container.
Leftovers should be cooled as quickly as possible and stored in the fridge for three or four days or in the freezer for longer.
Bread will go stale in the fridge and moldy on the counter. Keep only what you can eat within about 5 days in a bread bin or plastic bag and freeze the rest for best flavour.
To learn more information about the shelf life of food, how to store it properly and how to get creative and use up what’s leftover visit Love Food Hate Waste or sites like EatByDate.com and StillTasty.com.
- Make a Meal Plan
Plan your meals for a week at a time. Planning doesn’t have to be fancy and there’s nothing saying you need to follow the exact plan. Writing down a few meal ideas is a good way to reduce how much food you buy and potentially waste.
When making your plan, consider ways to piggy-back meals so you get the best use of ingredients. For example, plan to cook a large chicken on Sunday night so you have enough to make Monday night’s Chicken Corn Chowder.
- Shop Wisely
Before you shop, use your meal plan and check what you already have on hand to create a shopping list of things you need. Impulse buying or buying too much food, especially fresh produce, is a common culprit of food waste. Stick to your shopping list to help manage what you buy.
Another tip when shopping is to only buy amounts that you can actually use before it spoils. While we are often taught to buy the biggest box for the lowest price, bigger quantities aren’t a bargain if we toss a portion of the food away. If you have extra food on hand, be sure to use it or preserve it before it spoils.
- Use Leftovers
Embrace leftovers! If you don’t like the idea of simply re-heating last night’s dinner, re-work leftovers into a new meal.
Use individual items like vegetables, rice, pasta or meat as the starting point for a new meal. They work especially well in soups, pasta sauces, curries, stews, shepherd’s pie, sandwiches, omelettes, frittatas, fried rice… the list goes on! Check out the recipes at Love Food Hate Waste for ideas on how to use your leftovers.
- Try Your Hand at Preserving
If you have an excess of a particular food, try preserving it. You can dry, freeze or can without a lot of fuss. Small batch preserving can be done in under an hour and can provide you with a great sense of accomplishment and tasty food!
It can be as simple as washing, chopping and freezing extra herbs like parsley, cilantro or chives in a freezer bag. Onions, garlic and sweet or hot peppers can also be chopped and frozen in airtight freezer bags. If you have extra ginger or turmeric root, you can toss the entire root in a freezer bag and grate it while still frozen when you need it.
Most fruit can simply be washed, and frozen or dehydrated. Vegetables will need to be blanched (cooked for 2-4 minutes) before freezing or drying. Read more on Freezing Fruits and Vegetables and Dehydrating Foods at Home.
Even canning can be easy and straightforward. Small batches of jams or pickles require nothing more than a large soup pot. An extra bag of apples can easily be turned into jarred applesauce. Extra strawberries can be turned into strawberry jam and a bounty of beets can be made into pickles ready to enjoy all year. Read more on preserving in our article Intro to Canning.
If you have extra fruit on fruit trees and know you are not going to use it, share it! There are organizations dedicated to rescuing food before it gets wasted. Fruit Share is an online service that connects fruit owners and fruit pickers so fruit doesn’t get wasted. Fruit pickers harvest the fruit and it is shared between the fruit owners, the pickers and the community agencies who feed Manitobans in need.
Reducing food waste is not only good for the planet, but good for your budget. Use these simple ways to cut down on the food wasted in your home.