By Jessica Kaliher, Cal Poly Dietetic Intern
By now, most people have heard the staggering statistic that one third of food produced in the United States is wasted1. Food waste can occur at any point in the food production process from harvest to preparation by the consumer. While you may not have much impact on food waste during food production, you have the power to significantly reduce food waste at home.
Why You Should Care
1 in 6 people in San Luis Obispo County is food insecure. The SLO Food Bank dedicates every day to providing food security and resources to our community, and especially during the holidays, aiming to add a plate to the tables of those who need it most.
While helping our neighbors is a main priority, reducing food waste is financially beneficial and sustainable! Throwing away purchased food is throwing money away, not to mention, sending food to the landfill is the last resort and least preferred method according to the EPA’s hierarchy of food recovery2.
How The SLO Food Bank Reduces Food Waste
Volunteers harvest produce from farms, orchards, and backyards that would otherwise go to waste. The rescued produce is then distributed through a variety of our programs including the Children’s Farmer’s Markets.
Members of our staff collect extra food from local grocery stores and distribute it to those in need.
Both of these programs divert food waste from the landfill and into the hands of those in need.
What You Can Do At Home
- Plan meals and grocery shop accordingly – as you write your grocery list, keep in mind what meals you will make and check to see what ingredients you already have. If crunched for time, snap a picture of your fridge or pantry and reference it at the store.
- Purchase “ugly” produce including bruised apples, odd shaped potatoes, and single bananas (not in a bunch). These foods are particularly vulnerable to food waste because they are not as visually appealing yet are still perfectly safe and nutritious. Consider adding “ugly” or wilted foods to soups, smoothies, or omelets!
- Make foods visible in your fridge – keep track of what you have and move foods that will expire to a designated spot where you are sure to see and use them!
- Consider donating to a local food drive if you have an abundance of non-perishable food items.
- Register to donate your crop if you have extra produce in your backyard, orchard, garden, or commercial farm at gleanslo.org.
- Keep recipes on hand and get creative in the kitchen. If you have seemingly random ingredients that are about to expire, chances are you can create something delicious with an open mind!
- Avoid bulk and impulse purchases.
- Carry Tupperware when eating out or attending a dinner party/potluck. If you are hosting dinner, have some available to send extra food home with guests.
- Freeze foods that you cannot eat quick enough or foods about to expire such as loaves of bread, tortillas, chopped produce, and large-batch meals.
- Become a food label expert! According to the FDA, confusion over the meaning of food labels is estimated to contribute about 20% of food waste in the home1.
- “Best if used by” indicates when the quality will be highest. It is not a measure of food safety. There is a push to standardize this term among the food industry because it is easier for consumers to understand than “sell by” or “use by.”
- “Sell by” refers to the date that retailers should discard of the food, but again, is not related to safety.
- Choosing a “best if used by” date is not an exact science. Aside from infant formula, adding a quality-based date to packaged food is not actually required by law, so it is typically the manufacturer’s best guess1.
- Don’t get tripped up by dates on the label. Use your senses such as sight and smell to determine the quality of food. Be sure to also practice proper food safety at home.
- If you are still unsure about the shelf life of items in your kitchen, download the USDA’s free app “FoodKeeper” for more information.
As one of my favorite food waste videos puts it, wasting food wastes water, labor, fuel, money, love, and more! If you still aren’t convinced, consider watching this short video.
Let us know: What tips and tricks will you be using this season (and year-round) to reduce food waste at home?
1. FDA (2019). Confused by date labels on packaged foods? Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/confused-date-labels-packaged-foods
2. EPA (2019). Food recovery hierarchy. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-hierarchy
3. USDA (n.d.). Food waste FAQs. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs
4. USDA (2019). Tips to reduce food waste. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/tips-reduce-food-waste