Strategies for Reducing Food Waste
By Samantha Kennedy, UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County
Americans waste a lot of food. Each year in the United States, it is estimated nearly 50 percent of all produce is either thrown away or left to rot in the field.
This loss equates to 60 million tons with an approximate value of $160 billion. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency states food waste is the single biggest occupant in American landfills, comprising about 14 percent of the total volume.
Two reasons for this excessive waste are cost and aesthetics. Americans spend less on food than nearly any other country in the world. Americans are also accustomed to perfect-looking produce, which means the “ugly” fruits and vegetables are often discarded before reaching store shelves, even though they are perfectly edible.
What can be done? Reducing food waste saves both money and resources such as water, soil, fertilizer, and energy. As the world’s population continues to grow, it will be even more vital to reduce waste and become even more efficient in using resources wisely in order to feed everyone.
Consumers can help reduce food waste in their homes by adopting a few simple habits. One of the easiest things to do is take an inventory before shopping. Overbuying often leads to waste because perishable items spoil before use.
Another good habit is to keep foods close to their use by dates at the front of the pantry or refrigerator so they will be used before they expire. It is also good practice to freeze any leftovers which may not be eaten right away. Leftovers can only be stored safely up to four days in the refrigerator, but can last for months in the freezer.
When eating out, take leftovers home instead of leaving them on the plate. That way, they can be enjoyed as a second meal instead of being thrown away by the restaurant staff. Splitting one meal into two also helps lower the cost per serving, thereby helping to spread each food dollar much further.
A huge contributor to restaurant food waste is buffets. People routinely help themselves to more food than they can eat, leaving the rest to be thrown away. By dishing up smaller amounts and eating everything taken, food waste could be greatly reduced.
Buy those “ugly” fruits and vegetables if they are available. The flavor and nutrition of misshapen or slightly blemished produce are exactly the same as those of more aesthetically pleasing produce. Vendors, such as produce stands or farmers markets, may even provide a slight discount on damaged or misshapen produce.
Search for recipes incorporating several of the ingredients lingering in the pantry. Instead of throwing away a bit of cottage cheese and a single stalk of celery, use them in a new recipe or add a twist to an old favorite.
Two final strategies for eliminating food waste are donation and composting. Donation is great if the food is still of good quality and will be used quickly. Ask the food pantry when they will be distributing food before donating to ensure the food will not go bad before it can be used.
Composting is a terrific way of recycling food scraps into useful soil amendments which can then in turn be used to fertilize a variety of garden plants. However, there are limitations on what can be effectively composted, so contact the UF/IFAS Extension office for the proper tips and techniques.
For recipes, tips, or more information on reducing food waste, please contact Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences agent, at (850) 926-3931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.