Hacks to reduce food waste
Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that 30-40 percent of food is waste in the U.S. In 2010 this equated to 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food. Food waste is not only costly, but also negatively affects the environment and hinders food security.
There are generally three places that food is wasted: in fields/on the farm, in transit and in stores, and by consumers after food is purchased. There can be reductions in waste at each point along the food access route, but for consumers it is most within their control to reduce waste on their part.
The best way to reduce food waste is to not buy too much food at once. This is particularly true of food that expires. This can be avoided by either visiting the store often or by purchasing food that lasts a long time, either by nature or because it is frozen or canned.
Keeping track of expiration dates and understanding which food items are good past their expiration date is a simple way to reduce food waste. Dairy products and other perishables should be used by their expiration date, but food does not magically become bad as soon as the expiration date has passed. Food can be inspected to see if something is spoiled, which can include smelling or tasting. Many other foods, such as dried fruit, nuts, and chips, are generally still good past their expiration date.
With keeping track of expiration dates and state of the food, food that is getting close to spoiling or going bad should be used first. For example, if an apple is getting overripe it should be eaten before a granola bar that lasts for months or years when unopened. When cooking, consumers can look at what food needs to be used up and plan meals accordingly.
Keeping track of expiring food also applies to leftovers. First, everyone should have containers to keep leftovers in. This helps decrease food waste and reduces overeating. Second, making sure that leftovers are eaten before new food is made also helps with decreasing food waste. Eating leftovers also helps save money, especially if it was an expensive meal from a restaurant.
Especially for seasonal produce, freezing and canning can help reduce food waste while also making local produce go longer. For example, strawberries are in season in this area in June, but they can be frozen on cookie sheets and then put into bags and can be used all year in baking, on ice cream and waffles, and more. Canning can be done to preserve large amounts of food. Before transportation of food became global, people had to can and make their food go further in order to survive. Many people gardened, but these skills have fallen out of practice.
Food can also be donated. If it is unopened, food is easily donated to food pantries, such as the Lion’s Pantry on campus. Food that is opened that the buyer does not think they will finish or does not like can be given to a friend so that it does not go to waste.
Composting is one of the last resorts when reducing food waste. Although this does not decrease the demand for food, it recycles the food into usable natural fertilizers or bioenergy. When food is thrown in the landfill it cannot properly decompose or be used again.
The USDA’s goal is to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030. More information on food waste and on entering the U.S. Food Waste Challenge can be found at https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm