That sinking feeling you get when you find wilted or expired food in your fridge, pantry, or counter top. Heartbreaking, isn't it? Those beautiful peppers or carrots you totally meant to use in a curry, or the big plans you had for the canned goods but still haven't gotten around to breaking them open. Yeah, we've been there.
Unfortunately, food waste is a big problem in the U.S., with over 72 billion pounds of food going to waste each year. Yup, that's billion with a "b." The good news is, household food waste could be drastically reduced if we all made a few small lifestyle changes to prevent it, which includes smart shopping and storing.
A ton of food is actually wasted before it even hits grocery store shelves. Have you ever noticed how shiny and uniform apples look when piled in grocery store bins? They didn’t all grow on the tree that way! Because of our culture’s aversion to less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables, the "ugly" (yet perfectly tasty) ones get tossed. In fact, one in five fruits and veggies grown in the U.S. don't meet cosmetic standards.
So when you see misshapen fruits and vegetables, buy them! You can even sign up for delivery programs like Imperfect Produce, which deliver those delicious and tasty fruits and veggies that tend to get passed over for cosmetic reasons at the grocery store.
Another element to shopping consciously is to plan your meals. Meal planning isn't just for those folks on specific diets or watching what they eat — planning out your meals ensures that you're buying only what you need and helps to avoid purchasing food that "sounds good" but ends up spoiling in the back of the refrigerator.
Store Food Properly To Avoid Spoilage and Waste
Some fruits and veggies prefer to be sealed up tightly while others like to be placed in a breathable container.
Some greens, like fresh herbs, will last much longer if you leave the stems on and put them in a glass of water, just like you would do with cut flowers. Some produce will also wilt or spoil less quickly if it is washed and prepped before being tossed in the refrigerator. You can extend the life of berries by washing them in a diluted apple vinegar wash (1 cup vinegar and 8 cups water). They’ll mold less quickly!
Check out this guide to learn how to most efficiently store each type of produce.
Repurpose Overripe Fruits And Veggies
Bananas, berries, and other fruits that have gotten too soft are perfect for smoothies! Freeze them on a parchment lined baking sheet, then throw them into a reusable silicone Stasher bag, press out excess air, and seal.
Vegetables that are past their prime crunchiness can be used up in purees, or put in a bag in the freezer to be turned into vegetable broth. You can also save veggie scraps (peels, ends) for this purpose!
Store And Use Extra Food
When you have leftovers, store in a container that you can label (if you’re using a Stasher bag, you can write right on it with a dry-erase marker). Place them near the front of your refrigerator shelves to remind you to use them up.
You can also try freezing meals you don’t think you’ll eat right away. Instead of letting extra herbs wilt, chop them up, freeze them in cubes and stash them in the freezer in a Stasher. You can even plant some herb and veggie scraps to let them re-grow.
Composting is a great way to keep food and veggie scraps out of the landfill, where they won’t decompose properly sealed inside a plastic trash bag. There are many different methods of composting, for any space.
Those with a big backyard can use traditional composting methods, and apartment dwellers can sign up for a city composting program (check to see if your area offers one).
Of course, the best way of all to reduce food waste is by cultivating a healthy respect for the food we buy and eat, understanding the hard work and resources behind it, and committing to being conscious consumers.