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    Avoiding Food Waste

    Imagine filling several canvas bags full of fruits and vegetables, organic milk, grass-fed beef and whole grains...and tossing one-third of this bounty into the garbage can before leaving the supermarket. Sounds absurd, right? It’s happening in households all over the country.

    In the United States, 31% of all food grown and raised—the equivalent of 133 billion pounds per year, according to the Department of Agriculture—is never eaten.

    Food waste happens at all stages of production from farms and food processing facilities to supermarkets and restaurants. Individuals don’t get away clean, either: The USDA notes that more than 20% of all food waste is generated at the consumer and household level. 

    “It’s something we can all do something about,” says Elise Golan, director forsustainable development at the USDA.

    Why Food Waste is Harmful

    There is good reason to take action: Food scraps are the number one material sent to the landfills and accounts for 14% of all municipal solid waste, according to theEnvironmental Protection Agency. In landfills, food waste contributes to the production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

    And, as Golan points out, “All of the resources that are used to produce food—land, water, pesticides, fertilizers, labor—are essentially wasted when we throw food away.” 

    As awareness of the impact of food waste grows, so do efforts aimed at reducing the problem. 

    Golan suggests embracing the World War I motto: “Buy [food] with thought, cook it with care, eat less wheat and meat, buy local foods, serve just enough, use what is left.”

    Ways to Cut Food Waste

    You can take steps to reduce food waste in your own kitchen—helping both the environmentand your wallet.

    Make a Plan

    Reducing food waste starts with being more thoughtful about the foods you purchase and prepare.

    At the beginning of each week, write a meal plan that takes advantage of foods already in your refrigerator and pantry. Using those foods before buying more will reduce waste.

    At the market, stick to a list and avoid impulse purchases that don’t fit into the plan (and are more likely to go to waste).

    Eat Smart

    Overfilling dinner plates often leads to uneaten food being scraped into the trash. Instead, dish out smaller servings and encourage guests to serve up their own seconds. If there are leftovers, serve them the following night or freeze for dinner at a later date. 

    Golan also encourages consumers to learn how to store foods to extend their shelf life. The USDA, in partnership with Cornell University, developed aFoodKeeper app with a searchable database of more than 500 foods along with cooking and storage tips. 

    “Learning about the best ways to store food can help reduce waste,” she says. “People forget that when you buy something, you don’t have to eat it right away.”

    Embrace “Ugly” Foods

    USDA produce grading standards are very strict, according toEmily Broad Leib, director of the food law and policy clinic at Harvard Law School. “Foods have to be in perfect condition and perfectly shaped” to be sold in supermarkets, she explains.

    In contrast, the “ugly food” movement is gaining momentum, educating consumers about the importance of embracing less-than-perfect produce to keep it from being wasted.

    “We need to be putting it on people’s radar that these products taste just as good as picture-perfect produce,” Leib says.

    Wherever you shop for food, let those in charge of the produce know that you’re happy to buy crooked cucumbers, small apples and peaches with a bruise.

    Support Businesses Focused on Waste Reduction

    As awareness of food waste grows, more manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurants are taking action to reduce their impact. Actions such as reevaluating ordering procedures, improving storage practices and donating foods to hunger relief agencies help ensure that less food waste is going to the landfill and more is getting into the hands of those who can use it. 

    “Consumers should ask, ‘What are you doing about food waste?” notes Leib. 

    Several four states have passed laws that restrict the amount of food waste businesses can send to landfills. Learning what your state is doing, and then writing to your elected officials to encourage similar bans, can have an impact.

    “It took a little while for recycling to take hold; now it’s the standard,” Leib says. “That’s where we need to get with food.”

    Keep Refrigerated Food Fresh

    Staring at another limp head of lettuce or shriveled cucumber? Fridge rot wastes not only the food but your hard-earned coin as well. To help your edibles stay edible, try the following tricks:

    • To maintain good air circulation, don’t stuff the refrigerator full.
    • Don’t wash produce before popping it in the fridge. Except for berries: Wash them in a 1 cup vinegar/3 cups water solution to kill mold spores before drying thoroughly.
    • To avoid rubbery celery, take it out of the bag and wrap in foil.
    • Stand fresh herbs in a small cup of water.
    • Line your salad drawer with paper toweling to avoid wilt-inducing condensation.
    • Let avocados ripen on the counter. When they give to the touch, stop the ripening process by moving them to the fridge.

    Learn About Expiration Dates

    It’s tempting to toss foods when their “best before” dates have passed. However, despite the wording, expiration labels are not meant to tell consumers when food is bad.

    “The idea of an expiration date is a bit of a misnomer,” explainsBenjamin Chapman, PhD, associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University.

    The government does not require foods to be labeled with expiration dates, which are stamped on everything from canned soup and crackers to chicken breasts. The labels, which are also stamped as “sell by” or “best before” are, in fact, voluntary. 

    Chapman explains that manufacturers use these dates to indicate the quality of the food may degrade after the date. “There is a big difference between food quality or spoilage and foodborne illness,” he says.

    (The exception, according to Chapman, is infant formula. After the expiration date, the nutrients degrade. Since formula is the sole source of nutrition for infants, it should not be used after the best-before date.)

    Packaged dry foods, such as crackers, canned soup and condiments, are often safe to eat even if their expiration dates have past. On the other hand, fridge foods can be problematic if they're held too long, especially once they're opened. Don't use the taste test; instead keep track of when you buy them and use the storage times listed

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    **These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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