To Your Health: 5 things you can do to waste less food

crisperIn the United States, we throw a lot of food away. In fact, as much as 40 percent of all our food ends up in landfills, according to one recent estimate.

Part of the problem, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, is with our food system. Produce that isn’t visually appealing is thrown away because it doesn’t meet retail standards. Restaurants build food waste into their bottom lines.

But we consumers also have to take some of the blame.

The NRDC reports that American families toss about one-fourth of all the food and beverages they buy. That amounts to thousands of dollars in the trash.

So what can you do to reduce household food waste? Here’s what the experts suggest:

1. Store foods properly. This is a biggie – foods go bad because they’re not in the right containers or because they’re hidden behind other items in the refrigerator.

There are lots of great tips online for lengthening the shelf life of your foods. Here’s one: Don’t store apples in the fridge; put them in a paper bag and store in a cool, dry cupboard. Apples emit ethylene gas, which causes other foods nearby to wilt and spoil. And here’s another one: Store dry goods (cereal, nuts and pasta) in glass containers with tight-fitting lids to keep them from getting stale. What are your tips for storing foods?

2. Challenge your family to reduce food waste. Reducing food waste doesn’t mean wiping your plate clean. It means preparing the right amounts of foods, and re-purposing leftovers for subsequent meals. (You can find tips on that here.) Why not start cataloging how much food your family throws away, and work on ways to reduce it? You’ll be amazed at how a little effort can go a long way.

bananas3. Know what the date on food labels means – and what it doesn’t mean. Most of us assume that a product that’s passed its “use by” or “sell by” date has spoiled or will spoil soon. But that’s not true. These dates aren’t standardized. They merely represent a manufacturer’s best estimate for how long a food will still retain its “peak quality.” The only exception to this is baby formula.

4. Buy smart when you buy in bulk. Buying in bulk sometimes makes sense. But it takes planning to do it right so that you’re not just buying more to waste more. Consider buying items in bulk that your family uses a lot of or foods that have long shelf lives.

5. Don’t over-prepare. Ever cooked a big pot of pasta only to throw half of it away a few days later? Cooking just the right amount isn’t easy, but it’s important that we try. Start tracking how much of your prepared foods you’re throwing away, and then adjust your recipe so that you’re making just the amount.

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