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How Much Food Do You Waste?


Posted by: Dr. Mercola 
January 21 2010 

 

wastefoodA recent study of food waste in the U.S. estimated that 1,400 calories of food per person is wasted every day. These wasted calories represent 39 percent of the available U.S. food supply. Wasted food means wasted resources.

Buying the proper amount of food and eating food before it spoils will save you money and reduce energy use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions. Wasting less requires small shifts in the way you plan your meals and store your food. 

Here are things you can do to shift towards less waste:

  • Buy proper portions. A website from the UK called Love Food Hate Waste will help calculate portions.

  • Learn to store your food so that it stays fresh.

  • Learn recipes for tasty leftover meals.

  • Plan ahead. If you plan your meals in advance, you can buy only what you need at the store.

  • Be careful at restaurants. Portions at restaurants are sometimes too big for one person to eat. To avoid waste, share a main dish or bring a container for your leftovers.

  • Compost. Rather than toss your peels and wilted leaves, compost your vegetable scraps in a backyard compost pile or worm bin.


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Knowing when food in your home has spoiled and is unsafe to eat often isn’t as easy as just looking at it.

A bit of mold or discoloration won’t make you sick. It’s perfectly safe to cut away the bad spot and eat the remainder. Even foods with a slight odor or slimy sheen are often perfectly safe to eat. Unappetizing, perhaps, but still safe.

The Truth about Expiration and “Use By” Dates

Did you know the dating of food is a completely voluntary practice on the part of food manufacturers? The only exception is the dating of baby formula and some baby foods, which is mandated by the U.S. government.

Also, the wording that precedes the date stamp can have very different meanings, for example:

  • The Sell By date is for retailers and tells them the date the product should be removed from the store shelf. The food may have lost its peak freshness by the sell by date, but it is still perfectly safe to eat, if not optimally nutritious.

  • A Best If Used By, Best If Used Before or Use By date is another indicator of freshness, but not safety. It’s safe to eat foods past their use by date.

  • The Expiration date is the date after which a food may no longer be safe to consume.

When Good Food Goes Bad

It’s often food with small visible imperfections that you throw away – items like fruits and vegetables, bread and cheese.

But it’s not a bit of wilting or mold that makes you sick, it’s the bacteria you can’t see, smell or taste.

One problem we’re all faced with is in today’s world, food is transported all over the globe before it’s sold and consumed, which increases the likelihood your groceries might spoil before you have a chance to eat them.

Another problem is a quarter of all refrigerators in the U.S. aren’t kept cold enough to ensure food safety.

If food is left out too long before or between refrigerating, it will speed spoilage. The sooner you get perishable foods into the fridge the better, with two hours as the maximum amount of time you can safely allow food to sit out.

So get those leftovers put away immediately, and when shopping for food, don’t forget to calculate how long your groceries have spent in your cart, going through the checkout, and in your car on the drive home.

If you have a large quantity of a leftover, say mashed potatoes after your Thanksgiving meal, separate it into a few different containers for storage. The food at the center of a large mass will cool slowly, allowing bacteria to grow even after storage in your fridge or freezer.

Be careful with foods like dips. “Double dipping” can introduce bacteria from saliva into the food.

Also beware of products like mayonnaise and salad dressing. The oils in these products break down over time and become rancid, causing damage in your body. Most of these products aren’t good for you even when freshly purchased, as they are typically full of unhealthy vegetable oils.

How You Can Minimize Food Waste

  1.  
    1. Buy your food locally, preferably from a small farming operation you can visit and check out for yourself. Instead of an around-the-world voyage, your groceries will make only a short, direct trip from a local farm to your kitchen.

      Food grown on a smaller scale, and especially locally grown organic food, is generally safer than factory-farmed food.

    2. Eating fresh food, some of it raw, is the only way to be optimally healthy. So the solution to food waste isn’t to buy more processed or canned foods loaded with enough chemicals to preserve them for eternity.

      The fresher your foods are to start with, the longer they will be safe to eat. Choose small amounts of the freshest foods you can find and eat them as soon as possible. Vegetables, in particular, begin to lose their nutritional value as soon as they’re harvested.

    3. Cook in quantity and store the extra food in glass containers overnight in your fridge. You accomplish two things this way -- you use your ingredients before they spoil, and you have nutritious food all ready and waiting for you the following day.

      Dinner leftovers can often be eaten for breakfast, and are probably a better choice than most breakfast foods. You can also use leftovers to prepare lunch to take with you the next day. This can insure you eat a nutritious lunch rather than a fast food or processed food meal.

    4. To buy back some of that time you spend cooking, you can eat many foods raw while you’re on the go. Ideally, at least one third of your food should be eaten raw – foods like vegetables, seeds, nuts, dairy and organic eggs (depending on your nutritional type, as always).

      Vegetable juicing is also an excellent way to get more raw food into your diet, but it will require an investment of time.

    5. Massive amounts of foods are wasted when people eat away from home and order more food than they can consume.

      Mindful of the epidemic of obesity we’re facing in the U.S., another way to avoid food waste is to think in terms of less is more. Buy and serve healthy portions of food rather than too much, and give your body the opportunity to be satiated by smaller quantities and fewer calories.

Refrigeration Tips

  • Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees centigrade.

  • Don’t store your fruits and veggies in the same crisper. Apples and some other fruits give off ethylene gas which speeds ripening in vegetables.

  • If you need to store a portion of a red pepper (or green, yellow or orange), the stem, seeds or membrane intact and the pepper will stay fresh longer.

  • If you buy butter in quantity, wrap and freeze what you don’t plan to use immediately.

  • Transfer your food to your own packaging when you get home from shopping. And remember to get the air out of your produce bags, either using a vacuum seal or by manually pressing it out. An air-tight produce bag can double the life of your produce.

  • Leave enough space in your fridge for cold air to circulate. If your refrigerator is too tightly packed, your food will spoil faster.

Reducing waste of food by just 25 percent would mean returning $25 billion to the U.S. economy. Taking steps in your own life to eliminate food waste makes you part of the solution and not the problem.

By acting on the suggestions above, you’ll also get the added benefit of glowing good health.



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