Here’s a shocking statistic: Some 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the United States goes to waste each year according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The government now has ambitious goals to drive down the waste and loss in coming decades — in part to address the needs of Americans who need the food, and in part to conserve on resources and prevent pollution from production of food that is not consumed.
That’s the big picture. But did you know that a huge amount of that waste happens at the household level? It can translate to hundreds of dollars waste per person each year.
So to help you bolster your budget and do your part in the effort, we’ve rounded up the best tips for fighting food waste.
1. Check fridge and freezer temperatures periodically
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Cold temperatures cannot destroy the microorganisms that cause food to spoil, but sufficiently cold temperatures can significantly slow them down.
Refrigerators should be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Freezers should be kept at zero degrees.
Some experts and appliance manufacturers go colder, though.
The University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, for example, recommends that fridge temps be set between 34 and 40 degrees. Samsung says the ideal temperature for French-door fridges is 37 degrees.
The IANR recommends that freezers be set to zero degrees, noting that frozen food deteriorates more quickly when stored at higher temperatures.
2. Reorganize the fridge, freezer or pantry
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If you frequently forget about the items in the bottom of your fridge or the back of your pantry shelves, reorganize. Or, try an organizational aid like a lazy Susan.
For example, a reader noted the following in the blog The Kitchn:
I was always forgetting my perishables in the veg drawers, etc. So I put the stuff that needs to be cooked on the top shelf, and the jars, nuts, flours in the produce drawers. This helped a lot.
3. Make groceries last longer
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Have you ever thought to keep onions in pantyhose? Or mushrooms in paper bags? Storing specific foods in certain ways can extend their life.
For more easy ways to prevent food from spoiling early, check out “21 Tricks to Make Groceries Last Longer.”
4. Find new uses for excess food
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Leftover mashed potatoes can double as a ready-made base for potato pancakes, and extra grapes can be frozen and used later as creative ice cubes in mixed drinks, for example. Flat soda can help scrub blackened pots and pans.
For more fresh ideas, check out “12 Ways to Keep Good Food From Going Bad.”
5. Track your trash
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At least periodically, keep a log of all food items your household throws away.
Doing so will make you more mindful of how much food you lose to the trash can. That knowledge might help you lose less.
You’ll also be able to spot any patterns in the types of foods you throw away. That way, you will know when to buy less of a certain food.
6. Plan your meals
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Take a little time once a week to plan out one week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, or whatever meals your household eats. Then, build a grocery list based on your meal plans.
There are apps that can help. One example is Mealboard, which combines recipe management, meal planning, groceries and pantry management.