While the world wastes about 1.4 billion tons of food every year, the United States discards more food than any other country in the world: nearly 40 million tons — 80 billion pounds — every year.1 That’s estimated to be 30-40 percent of the entire US food supply,2 and equates to 219 pounds of waste per person.3 That’s like every person in America throwing more than 650 average sized apples right into the garbage — or rather right into landfills or, in the case of Fairfield, an incinerator. In fact, food is the single largest component in municipal solid waste,4 making up 22 percent.5 (1 – 5; Source: RTS, EPA and US department of Agriculture)
This waste is caused by several factors, many of these sits within the agricultural route to market system and the supermarket and restaurant systems but American homes also contribute significantly to wasted food by not understanding how to store and save food. Sell by dates and use by dates cause confusion and account for significant waste (up to 20% according to the FDA).
The FDA has set a goal of reducing Food Waste by 50% by 2023.
SFTF has written this guide to help Fairfield residents better understand the grocery sell by and use by dates and offer tips on how to better save and store foods.
- Reduce – The best way to minimize your food waste is shop smarter, freeze food (particularly meat) if you are not planning to use it within the next few days and take advantage of soup or stew recipes to use up leftover or remaining foods that are on the verge of going bad. It also helps to fully understand food labeling as many best- by dates and sell -by dates do not mean the food is bad on that date.
- 90% of Americans do not fully understand what a sell by or use by date means on food. Food is thrown away which is still good or can be frozen and used later.
- Sell by date – used mostly on refrigerated products to inform stores when to remove a product from the shelves – Eggs are good for 3 – 5 weeks after this, dairy is usually good for 1 week after this date. Store these in the back of your fridge where it is colder and if you don’t have room, milk, cheese and bread can be frozen and used later.
- Use by date – This is a manufacturer date that indicates when THEY think that food is at its peak of freshness or best taste. Food after this date can still be good/safe to eat for weeks, months in some cases years after this date.
- Expiration date – This is used for things like some over the counter medications, baby formula, baking soda or things with yeast in them which will have reduced or lose their efficacy by this date.
- Did you know that the best way to store celery is upright in a glass of water on a shelf in your fridge? Or that bananas should not be stored next to other fruits on the counter, and that once ripe, they should be moved to the fridge (source: NRDC)? Here are some tips from the EPA and FDA for Buying, using, and storing food if you are not going to eat it right away
- Preplan and write your shopping list before going to the grocery store. As you write your list, think about what meals you will be preparing the following week, and check your fridge to see what items you already have.
- When at the store, buy only what you need and stick to your shopping list. Be careful when buying in bulk, especially with items that have a limited shelf life.
- If available, purchase “ugly” fruits or vegetables that often get left behind at the grocery store but are safe to eat. “Ugly” produce has physical imperfections but are not damaged or rotten. “Ugly” fruits and vegetables are safe and nutritious and can sometimes be found at discounted prices.
- When eating out, ask for smaller portions to prevent plate waste and keep you from overeating. You can also request a take-away box to take leftovers home instead of leaving food on your plate.
- Create a designated space in your fridge for foods that you think will be going bad within a few days.
- Check your fridge often to keep track of what you have and what needs to be used. Eat or freeze items before you need to throw them away.
- If you have more food on hand than you can use or you need, consider donating your extra supply of packaged foods to a local food pantry or a food drive.
- Use your freezer! Freezing is a great way to store most foods to keep them from going bad until you are ready to eat them.
- Properly store fruits and vegetables for maximum freshness; they’ll taste better and last longer, helping you to eat more of them before they go bad.
- Most veggies, especially those that could wilt (such as leafy greens, carrots, cucumbers, and broccoli) should go in the high humidity drawer of the fridge.Most fruits, as well as vegetables that tend to rot (such as mushrooms and peppers), should go in the low humidity drawer of the fridge.Some fruits (such as bananas, apples, pears, stone fruits, and avocados) release ethylene gas as they ripen, making other nearby produce ripen, and potentially spoil, faster. Store these away from other produce.Wait to wash berries, cherries, and grapes until you’re ready to eat them to prevent mold.
- Some produce, such as potatoes, eggplant, winter squash, onions, and garlic, should be stored in a cool, dry, dark, and well-ventilated place.
- Make sure you are properly storing food in your refrigerator.
- The refrigerator door is the warmest part of the fridge. You can store condiments there, but it is not recommended to store milk or eggs in the door.The lower shelves are the coldest part of the fridge. Store meat, poultry, and fish here.
- Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40 °F or below.
- Store grains in airtight containers and label the container with the contents and the date.
- Befriend your freezer and visit it often. Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit, meat, or leftovers that you know won’t be eaten in time. Label with the contents and the date.
At Home: Cooking, Serving and Enjoying Food with Family and Friends
- Use “ugly” fruits or vegetables to whip up healthy smoothies and soups for your friends or family. No one will notice the difference!
- Be creative and have fun! Create new dishes and snacks with leftovers or items you think will go bad if not eaten soon. Have a cook off to find out who can come up with the best dish.
- Follow the 2-Hour Rule. For safety reasons, don’t leave perishables out at room temperature for more than two hours, unless you’re keeping it hot or cold. If the temperature is above 90° F, food shouldn’t be left out for more than one hour. Also, remember to refrigerate leftovers within two hours.
- Use serving size information on the Nutrition Facts label to help you portion meals or snacks. You can always add more to your plate after finishing off the first helping.
- Prepared too much food for a party at your home? Pack extras in containers for guests to take home or take some over to a neighbor as a nice gesture.
- Have a friendly competition with your friends or family members to see who can go the longest without any food waste.
- Try this fun interactive guide to see how to store foods correctly to extend their life: