8 Tips to Reduce Food Waste

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March is National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme is “Fuel for the Future.” Eating with sustainability in mind is a tasty way to nourish yourself and protect the environment. A big part of eating sustainably is tossing less food out, since it’s the single largest category of material sent to solid waste landfills. Food in landfills generates methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Food production takes land, water, labor, energy and other inputs. According to the USDA, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply.

Here are a few actions that will help you reduce food waste and save money:

  1. Shop your refrigerator first! Eat what you already have at home before buying more.
  2. Plan your menu before you go shopping and buy only those things on your menu.
  3. Buy only what you realistically need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.
  4. Be creative! If safe and healthy, use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons and beet greens can be sautéed.
  5. Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables – especially abundant seasonal produce.
  6. If you are eating at a restaurant that serves large portions, consider splitting your meal with a friend. Or take home the leftovers for a future meal.
  7. Compost all your kitchen scraps to nourish your soil instead of throwing them away.
  8. Learn what label dates mean. Most dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by federal law. The exception is infant formula and baby food that require a “use by” date for quality and nutrient retention, which must be adhered to for infant health. Most label dates are meant for food quality. There are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels. Common practices include:

Milk has a “sell by” date stamped on every carton. It’s best to purchase it before this date. If it remains refrigerated at 40 degrees or less, it should remain fresh up to 7 days beyond the “sell-by” date. If milk smells bad, it’s time to throw it out.

Yogurt has a “sell by” or “best if used by” date for highest quality. If refrigerated correctly, it can be expected to be of good quality 10 days beyond this date.

Eggs usually have a “sell by” date on their carton. If refrigerated, they have a very long shelf life. They are expected to maintain decent quality for 3 to 5 weeks beyond the “sell by” date.

For meat, there are a couple of possible date markings:

  • “Sell by” date tells the retailer how long to display the product for sale.
  • “Use by”date is the last date recommended for meat while at peak quality. Freeze meat and poultry if unable to prepare by the “use by” date.

Peanut butter, powdered milk and some canned foods have a “best if used by” or “use by” date on the label. While the product may decline in flavor and quality, the food should be safe after this date.

High-acid canned goods such as tomatoes, fruits and fruit juice can be stored for 12 to 18 months.

Low-acid canned goods such as canned meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables will keep for 2 to 5 years, as long as the cans are in good condition and have been stored in a cool place.

Packing codes appear as a series of letters and/or numbers which might refer to the date or time of manufacture. They are used in case of a recall.

Margie Mansure is an extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. As a registered dietitian/nutritionist chef, she offers nutrition and cooking classes to community members. margie_mansure@ncsu.edu