A look at how you can cut down on food waste and save money.
GREEN BAY – It’s safe to say all consumers like two things: food and saving money. But the two don’t always go together.
Grocery shopping can be expensive, especially for big families. Worse, though, is the money wasted on food that’s gone bad, simply because it’s not eaten in time. Into the trash can it goes.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as much as 40 percent of all food in the United States today goes uneaten.
Mark Walter, business development manager at Brown County Resource Recovery, noted that the percentage includes food that goes bad during production before it even makes it to the grocery stores. Still, it amounts to about 20 pounds of food wasted per person every month. For a family of four, that’s about $2,200 worth of food thrown away each year.
If that number sounds staggering, that’s because it is. The dollar amount is almost the same as the average income tax refund everyone gets so excited about. And all of this food is needlessly going bad while people here and in other countries are going hungry.
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What can consumers do to stop the waste? Here are simple ways local experts say consumers can save money and make their food last:
Evaluate shopping habits, planning
Judy Knudsen, family and living educator at Brown County UW-Extension, suggests consumers check refrigerators and cabinets before going to the grocery store and taking note of things they already have. This prevents buying multiples and reduces the chance items will be thrown away.
She also suggests families list all of the food they throw out during a full week or month, and compare it with a recent shopping list. She said it will be clear where there’s disconnect.
Fruits and vegetables go bad quicker than other foods. That means shoppers should be realistic about how much they will eat and how quickly, said Lauren Tulig, dietitian manager at Skogen’s Festival Foods in De Pere.
“Shoppers just need be aware of how they use food and what their needs really are,” she said.
That can be as simple as buying just one bag of lettuce instead of buying two and throwing out a half bag of wilted, brown leaves a few weeks later.
That means a little more planning about meals.
Tulig describes it as merging calendars and shopping lists, as in, it’s chicken parmesan on Monday, pork chops and green beans on Tuesday, leftovers on Wednesday and so on.
That way, she said, consumers buy only what they’ll use.
Those who have unpredictable lives should both expand their shopping horizons and make the freezer their best friend.
“A lot of times, consumers are told to stick to the outer perimeter for the grocery store because that’s where the fresh produce is,” Tulig said. “But you can still find great frozen and canned fruits and vegetables in the middle of the store that are still good for you and last a bit longer.”
In addition, leftovers and meat that won’t be eaten soon should be placed in the freezer to prevent spoiling.
Be aware of printed dates
Knudsen said shoppers should be diligent about checking the printed dates on food while in store, but also recognize that the “sell by” and “expiration” dates are not the end all, be all.
She said many times people throw out food when it hits the sell by date, although all that date indicates is when the food should leave the store.
Expiration dates, she said, also don’t mean a food is no longer edible. It simply lets the consumer know when a product reaches its peak.
Common foods that are thrown out too soon include eggs and milk. She said eggs are usually good for two weeks or more after the printed date, milk, about one — as long as they’ve been refrigerated.
For those really bad at timelines, Tulig said to write dates larger with permanent marker on the front of products so there’s no mistaking when a food is on the verge of going bad.
Many people are strict with recipes, which can result in wasted food.
Instead of sticking to a recipe that calls for only half a tomato, try adding the whole thing. Or, Tulig said, just double the entire recipe so no ingredients are left.
Then leftovers from the meal can be wrapped up for the next day or frozen to be eaten even later.
Placement in refrigerator and more
It might be tempting to put the new, shiny stuff in the front of the fridge, but don’t.
Knudsen recommends placing new groceries behind older stuff so the older food still gets eaten instead of pushed to the back where it’s destined to rot.
It’s also important to know where to store each kind of food. For example, onions should be stored in a dark, cool and dry space and bananas shouldn’t be refrigerated.
Tulig added fruits and vegetables should be washed right before eating. If washed before sitting in the fridge, they’ll soak up the water and go bad quicker.
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