March is National Nutrition Month, and this year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is highlighting the important topic of food waste with their “Go Further with Food” theme.
Food waste can happen anywhere along the food supply chain, from farms to the grocery store, to restaurants, and even at home. Both retailers and consumers are responsible for this waste. Perfectly edible foods are thrown away due to imperfect appearance of produce in stores, over-purchasing items leading to spoilage, misunderstanding food labeling, and agricultural losses. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers food to be the most wasted item in the United States, with an estimated 30-40% of our total food supply being wasted. For the average American, that’s equivalent to about 300 pounds of food every year!
Wasted food most noticeably affects the cost of food production and how much money consumers end up spending. It can also mean wasted resources, such as the water used to grow the food, and extra space taken up in landfills. Food waste is especially important due to the number of food insecure households that exist in the United States, with nearly 18% of households in Lucas County having limited access to healthy food.
Reducing Waste at Home
There are many easy ways you can help prevent food waste at home. Here are some quick tips to get you started:
- Check what food you already have at home before you shop. Look for recipes that include these items so you can use them up first.
- Practice meal planning so that you avoid purchasing too much food at the store.
- Cook in batches and freeze extra portions of food you can’t eat right away.
- Learn to love leftovers! Get creative with making new meals out of last night’s dinner. Yesterday’s roasted turkey can be tomorrow’s turkey tacos.
- Keep perishable foods within plain sight. Opt for a fruit bowl on the table as an option for healthier snacks and using up more perishable items first.
- Store foods properly. Some produce lasts longer while refrigerated and other produce should be kept in a dry, dark environment.
- Wait to wash produce until right before you use it. This helps to preserve its shelf life.
- Try composting at home to limit the amount of waste that goes into landfills.
- Consider donating surplus dry goods to local food pantries!
Understanding Food Labels
Another key to preventing food waste is to know what the different dates on food labels mean. It is important to understand that food product dating is often an indicator of quality and not necessarily safety.
- Sell-by: This date is listed mainly for inventory purposes for stores. This is often used for perishable food items, but most foods can typically be consumed safely for multiple days past this date.
- Best-by: Indicates the date for best flavor and quality. This is not an expiration date.
- Use-by: This date lists the recommendation from the manufacturer for best quality. Infant formula should not be used after this date; however, other foods are often still safe to eat.
*Tip: Check Out the USDA’s FoodKeeper App for tips on how long items last and where they are best stored. Most canned foods are still safe to eat for at last for 1-2 years after the date on the container.
Try choosing a few of the tips above to focus on as you get started in reducing your food waste at home! Visit eatright.org for more information about National Nutrition Month and healthy eating.
Chloe Plummer, MS, RD, LD, is a clinical dietitian with ProMedica Advocacy and Community Health, and her main passion is promoting childhood and adolescent health and wellness. She has a bachelor of science degree in Health and Sport Studies from Miami University and a master of science degree in Clinical Nutrition from Rush University. Read more of her columns.