Friday, November 9, 2012

Ways to Minimize Food Wastage

Food wastage is a major problem in America.  As a nation, we throw away about half of all the food we produce.  We spend $1 billion per year to get rid of the food we throw away on top of the $165 billion in wasted food we toss every year.

Not to go too political on you, but just for the record, that $166 billion in food wastage and disposal?  That could be used to feed a whole hell of a lot of people in developing nations -- or right here at home.  Even if you don't care about feeding starving children (and you should), consider this:  Right now, Social Security is adding about $165 billion to the deficit.  Hmm, I wonder where we could possibly get that much money to counter that cost.....

General Tips for Minimizing Food Wastage

  • Make a meal plan and buy only the groceries you need to make the food on your menu.  If you do buy in bulk, only do it on foods that won't go bad, or make a plan for preserving your foods to make them last longer.  
  • If you don't eat a lot of produce, consider buying your vegetables frozen instead of fresh.  The nutrition loss is minimal and you don't have to worry about them going bad quickly.  Focus your fresh vegetable purchases on a handful of things that you know you'll eat right away. 
  • Take steps to extend the lifespan of foods in your fridge.  Keep the refrigerator at the right temperature.  Store things in the appropriate containers.  Rinse berries and other vegetables in vinegar to kill off mold spores.  
  • Don't cook more than you will eat.  If you have leftovers, package them in a freezer-friendly way and be sure you'll actually eat them.  It makes more sense to cook a small portion of something and eat all of it than cook a huge amount of leftovers that you won't eat.  If you're still hungry, eat a snack later.  
  • Keep your fridge clean and relatively well-organized so you can see what you have.  Keep a list somewhere of the food you have in the house and cross items off as you run out of them.  It will save you money on groceries and reduce food wastage.  
  • Stop sour cream and cottage cheese from molding by storing them upside down.  This makes it harder for contaminants to get inside the lid and ruin your food.  

Ways to Extend the Life of Foods Past their Prime

Even if you're careful, you may sometimes end up with food a bit past its prime.  No problem! Plenty of foods can be eaten past their "peak of freshness."  There's a long distance between "super fresh" and "so rotten it will make you sick," and foods in the in-between category can still be used.  
  • Eggs.  Check the freshness of eggs by dropping them in a bowl of water.  Fresh eggs will sink immediately to the bottom.  Not-so-fresh eggs will stand upright on their pointed ends.  Rotten eggs will float.  Fresh eggs stick together better for fried eggs and quiches; use the not-so-fresh ones in baked goods where their texture won't matter so much, or hard-boil them.  
  • Milk.  Milk usually lasts about two weeks past the "sell-by" date on the carton.  If it goes past that point or starts to sour, use it in place of buttermilk in pancakes, biscuits and other recipes.  Sour milk is also a fine starter for homemade cheese, yogurt, etc.  Just do something with it before it curdles on its own and you're all set.  
  • Cheese.  If a firm cheese like cheddar or swiss goes moldy in your fridge, just cut off the moldy portion.  For best results, shave off about 1" of the cheese that was touching the mold, too.  Don't try this with liquid dairy products like sour cream or cottage cheese, though.  
  • Firm vegetables.  Things like carrots, bell peppers etc. can be salvaged if they're slightly moldy.  Just chop off the moldy part.  As long as the rest of the vegetable still feels firm, you should be safe.  Don't try this with soft vegetables or fruits where the mold will penetrate deeper into the flesh.  
  • Produces that has begun to go soft.  If your produce has wilted or softened but isn't yet moldy, hurry and use it in something that will last.  Make a sauce or jelly out of your berries and fruit.  Toss the vegetables into your stock pot.  Yes, you're supposed to make these things with foods at the peak of freshness, but I promise that slightly-sagging celery will work just as well in your mire poix.  
  • Stale baked goods.  You need to throw out moldy bread, but the stale stuff works just great for homemade croutons and bread crumbs.  Stale chips can be rendered back down into masa or used as coating for things.  
These are just a few ideas.  The real hurdle is to be realistic with yourself about whether a food is actually unsafe to eat or if you're just freaking yourself out.  We have it pounded into our heads all the time that food has to be completely and utterly fresh and crisp and bright or we'll die, and the truth is a bit more nuanced than that.  

The best strategy though, as always, is simply not to buy things that you won't use.  Put some thought into it, be careful about what you buy and avoid creating unnecessary waste by using what you get.  Period.  

How 'bout you guys?  Any fun recipes or ideas for less-than-fresh foods? 

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