Did panic buying at the start of the pandemic leave you with food waste because of spoiled perishables? The shelves of stores were laid bare, and our pantries were overflowing. With closed restaurants, hotels and schools, our country’s largest fresh produce farmers had to throw out massive quantities of fruit and vegetables.
USDA researchers estimate that between 30 % and 40% of our food gets thrown out. We all learned not to waste food as we grew up. However, says one researcher, Brian Lipinski, we fail to link spoiled food to edibles.
Due to the health risk, nobody wants to go to crowded stores. That makes this the ideal time to address food wastage.
Track your food waste
The first thing to do is to track how much food you waste. You need no fancy equipment for this experiment. A pen and a notebook, or your smartphone will do. Arrange with everyone in your household, not throw out food without recording it. Use empty containers or cups to measure the quantities you throw out. Do this for two weeks, and the amount of food your family wastes may surprise you. You could go a step further and put a value to everything you throw out.
With what you have learned about your food waste patterns, you can shop smarter. You will save money and waste less food. Keep in mind that you may clean out your refrigerator once a week or month and not each day. Therefore, make sure your throw-out day falls in your food wastage tracking period.
Photograph you food waste
Taking photographs of all the food you throw out will likely be the best way to get the rest of your family on board. A cooking blogger did the same to track how much plastic came with the groceries she bought. Only once she had evidence she could get the rest of her family to understand her passion for avoiding plastic packaging whenever possible.
Every bit of food wastage or plastic packaging might seem insignificant on its own, but looking at the collection of photos will undoubtedly provide an overall understanding of the problem.
Work with shopping lists
Are you guilty of shopping without a list because you don’t have time to make a list? When you really think about it, you will see that a shopping list can actually save you time and money. You won’t have to go up and down each aisle in the store, buy more than necessary and create even more wastage.
But wait! Before you make your final shopping list, go through your pantry and refrigerator to have a better idea of what you have. You will see whether any perishables are about to spoil and see whether you can use it for a pre-prepared dish.
You can even make a list of perishables to stick on the refrigerator door. That way, you can avoid finding spoiled carrots or lettuce at the back of the fresh produce drawer. This can also save you more time when you make a shopping list.
Understanding food labels can limit food waste
You may throw food out because you misunderstand the meaning of the different dates listed on perishables. Here’s a list of the commonly used dates and their meanings.
Best if used by/before
This date does not tell you when you should eat or buy it. It merely indicates the date the manufacturer recommends the product will be at its best quality or flavor.
This date indicates the date by which the product will reach peak quality, but it does not mean you must throw it out if not consumed by that date.
You must freeze some food items to maintain top quality. The freeze by date is merely an indication for the best quality and not an expiry date.
Store owners use this date to indicate how long they can display products for sale. It does not mean you have to eat it by that date or throw it out
While some of these dates may seem confusing, your senses will tell you whether food items are spoiled. Smell it, touch it or taste a tiny bit, and you will know. Typical signs of spoiled perishables include an unpleasant odor, changed texture or a strange taste or flavor.
In a separate article I will try to encourage you to cook once and eat twice by having planned-overs instead of leftovers.