July 31, 2018
Today’s Guest Blog is by Gregory A. Cade, an attorney with Environmental Litigation Group.
Every year, over $165 billion worth of food is thrown away in the United States, which represents approximately 40% of the entire annual production. With consumerism as the dominant ideology in our current society and the incredibly vast range of products we can choose from when shopping for groceries, it should not be surprising that such a staggering amount of food goes to waste periodically. Overproduction is just one of the numerous dire consequences of consumerism and alarmingly, the extent to which food is thoughtlessly disposed of increases with each passing year. Since 1960, food waste has grown with 204% in the U.S. The average American household ditches 300 lb of food annually, which amounts to more than $2,000. Tragically, up to 90% of the food thrown away could have been safely consumed.
In addition to squandering valuable edibles which can nourish millions of people, food waste also means haphazardly depleting natural resources such as water and petroleum. A quarter of the water use in the U.S. refers to food production, whereas the manufacturing process requires 300 million barrels of oil per year. Furthermore, food waste also contributes to climate pollution, as the majority of unwanted products are discarded in landfills, where they generate roughly 34% of the country’s methane emissions. The primary reason why increasingly more food is being thrown away every year is lack of awareness.
Other factors which have been prompting the astounding dimension food waste came to reach include:
- Misreading labels, which leads to products being discarded before they become unsafe for consumption.
- Failing to estimate how much food one is going to eat and thereby serving portions which are too large.
- Lack of meal planning.
- Purchasing unnecessary food items.
- Buying in bulk.
- Spoilage due to inadequate storage.
While the issue of food waste is very complex and far-reaching, each of us can make a difference by becoming mindful of our consumption habits and by subsequently striving to reduce the amount of edibles we thoughtlessly throw away as much as is practicably possible. Contrary to what you may think, minimizing your food waste is not a challenging, tedious, or inconvenient endeavor. You can easily cut down on the amount of food you dispose of by including the following six practices in your daily life, which are bound to have a significant impact in the long run.
1. Plan your meals ahead and stick to your shopping list
Shopping for groceries with a clear idea of what you are going to cook in the near future, as well as having a list of what you actually need, will help you avoid buying unnecessary food items which would otherwise end up in the trash. Before heading out the door, take a few minutes to check your fridge and pantry, as we often fail to keep track of the food we already have and thereby wind up purchasing products we could have done without. While writing your shopping list, it is also important to estimate the amount of each food item you will need so as to keep yourself from overbuying. Once you are there, sticking to your list and adding only the products on it in your shopping cart is crucial, though the temptation of wandering off might get the best of you the first few times you try this approach.
2. Pay attention to the expiration date
Roughly 84% of people dispose of food because it went past the expiration date, which rarely means it is no longer safe for consumption. Learning the difference between “best-by” and “use-by” is essential in this regard and will prevent you from throwing away products which pose little to no risk after ingestion. However, before delving into what each term means, it is important to bear in mind that the expiration date refers strictly to food quality, which is not the equivalent of food safety, and should thereby serve only as a guideline when shopping. Accordingly, “best-by” pertains to the date the product should be consumed before to ensure ideal quality, whereas the “use-by” date indicates the last day the manufacturer suggests eating the food in question.
Using a product after the latter expiration date does not imply a health risk, but might affect the quality of your food to a greater or lesser extent. Therefore, you should make sure to eat the products which are closest to their “use-by” date first. One simple way you can do so is placing them at the front of your fridge or pantry. If you are wondering how long past the “use-by” date food can be safely eaten, here are the general recommendations for some of the most common edibles:
- bakery bread – 2-3 days in the pantry, 6 months in the freezer
- oatmeal – 1-2 years in the pantry
- eggs – 3-5 weeks in the refrigerator
- cheese – 1-2 months in the refrigerator, 6-8 months in the freezer
- yogurt – 7-10 days in the refrigerator, 1-2 months in the freezer
- poultry – 1-2 days in the refrigerator, 1 year in the freezer
- milk – 7 days in the refrigerator
- chocolate – 2-4 months in the pantry, 4-6 months in the refrigerator, 6-8 months in the freezer
3. Save and eat leftovers
Up to 50% of the food a household throws away consists in leftovers, which you will inevitably end up with if you overcook. Nevertheless, while paying attention to the amount of food you prepare can often help you avoid having leftovers, it may still happen for various reasons on occasion. Instead of disposing of the remaining food, you should wrap it up and store it adequately, either in the fridge or in the freezer, depending on when exactly you plan to eat the leftovers. Since 55% of edible leftovers are left at the restaurant, taking home your leftovers after you eat out is another way of minimizing your impact in this respect. As for the leftovers which fail to be timely consumed and go off, composting is a simple idea of preventing waste. However, it should not become your priority, as only organic leftovers – such as fruits and vegetables, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and grains – can be turned into compost.
4. Choose the right place to store your food
Inadequate storage is a sure way to reduce both the quality and the safety of your food. A malfunctioning refrigerator is often the culprit behind food going bad well before the expiration date. The optimal temperature inside the fridge is 32-40° F and maintaining it within this range will keep perishable food such as meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, and eggs from spoiling. Make sure you store each product according to the instructions on the label as soon as you return home, as leaving certain food out can quickly lower their shelf life. Depositing food in air-tight containers, as well as securely closing opened packages with sealing clips, is another aspect you should pay attention to when it comes to prolonging the shelf life of the products you buy. Because numerous fruits give off natural gases while they ripen, which leads to produces in close proximity spoiling more rapidly, it is also recommended to keep each type of fruit separately. Finally, washing berries right before eating them and not earlier will prevent the growth of mold.
5. Donate surplus to food banks
A reduction of only 15% in the amount of food waste generated by the U.S. alone would be sufficient to feed more than 25 million people for a year. Nonetheless, minimizing food waste, as well as global poverty, is a gradual process which will most likely bring forth tangible results within several decades. In the meantime, you can support both causes by donating your surplus of non-perishable food and unspoiled perishable food to local soup kitchens, shelters, food banks, pantries, and charities, whose owners will certainly appreciate your contribution. Alternatively, you can donate excess food and scarps to farms, which will use it to feed their livestock, or give it to your pets.
6. Preserve food to extend its lifespan
Not only will food preservation reduce waste, but it will also benefit the environment and help you save money. Whether you choose to preserve your own surplus of food or to purchase large amounts of edibles which are in season at the moment solely for this purpose, it will undoubtedly prove to be a fruitful (no pun intended) decision. There are numerous methods of preserving food, depending on the produce in question, such as:
- Freezing. Storing food at a very low temperature will inhibit the growth of microorganisms and prolong the lifespan of produces to a great extent. The most suitable foods to preserve using this method include milk, bread, certain fruits and vegetables, butter, meat, pastry dough, as well as uncooked dishes such as pizza and lasagna. On the other hand, freezing the following items is generally ill-advised: cheese, herbs, sour cream, fried foods, sauces, pasta, and yogurt.
- Drying. As one of the oldest food preservation methods, drying is also one of the easiest ways of lowering waste. It will allow you to enjoy some of your favorite fruits and vegetables all year round. Meat is another good candidate for drying. There are multiple techniques you can choose from, the most popular being sun-drying, oven-drying, and using a dehydrator.
- Canning. This food preservation method involves thoroughly processing the produce using various techniques and subsequently enclosing it in air-tight containers such as jars. Some of the foods which can be successfully canned are fruits, vegetables, poultry, seafood, pickled condiments, and meats.
Gregory A. Cade has worked as an attorney in the field of asbestos exposure for more than 20 years. Together with his law firm, Environmental Litigation Group, they have processed hundreds of thousands of asbestos claims and have recovered more than $1 billion for their clients.