Waste or Taste?

In collaboration with Guest Blogger, Caroline O’Connor, Dietetic Intern, Very Soon to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist!  

There’s a fine moral line between being food safe and enabling food waste

Food Safety is a Major Concern. The CDC estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the USA.

Food Waste is Major Concern. Americans alone throw out $165+ billions worth each year. Food that otherwise could feed a lot of mouths, conserve a lot of farm and environmental resources and reduce the growth of landfills. The first 2 alternatives are self-explanatory, but why is food in landfills a concern? It degrades, right? That’s like composting, right? And composting is good, right? Food forms biogas (carbon dioxide + methane) as it degrades. Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions, which over time, have more than 30 times  the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide. More on methane here: DrawDown Landfill Methane

 We’re here to break it down with tips to turn your kitchen into a guilt free, waste-less (if not waste free), safe zone. The conundrum: It’s hard to justify not wasting food if  serving it poses a safety risk to those at your table. So how to decide, Keep or Pitch? Here are some guidelines, realizing that there are barriers to implementation: chaotic family schedules, food desserts, exasperating commuting routes, at risk guests…that make this more challenging. But the goal is to waste less so choose steps that are adoptable, for you, for now. And send your questions and/or suggestions to KeepSafeFood.com so we can incorporate your ideas into better advice later

 Quantify

Be conscious of the food you throw away. You could keep a tally for a week just to get an idea…but I know I’d never do that. I have kept food waste in a separate composting bin which gave me an idea of how much and what kinds of food I was wasting. Then I could strategize appropriately.

 Check the Date:

Food label dating is almost as fraught with angst as online dating… how do we not waste food when it seems to expire so fast? Milk seems to hit its expiration date a couple days after it’s purchased. 

 The FDA attributes 20% of consumer food waste to product date label confusion. Over the next few years, most products will transfer over to the same phrase “Best if used by” which indicates the date when the product is no longer at its best flavor and quality. Past this date, the product may still be consumed if there are no signs of spoilage: changes in color, texture and/or consistency.  An example… if your milk states “best if used by 06/17/19” and it happens to be 06/19/19, smell it. If it smells fine, look at it. No curdling? Then it’s probably still safe to drink.

 How was it Stored? How will it be Used? Who will Drink it?

As a food safety expert, I’d be remiss not to add these considerations. Since not all germs are visible, think: was the milk refrigerated at 41ºF or below the whole time? And if I’m especially wary, because someone at my table is a child or with child or otherwise more vulnerable health wise, then I would use the milk as an ingredient in a recipe where it will be cooked, such as soup or a casserole, rather than pour it down the sink drain.

 Cherish Your Freezer

Love your freezer, appreciate your freezer’s ability to halt deterioration and slow down bacteria growth. Those on sale bananas that seemed to go brown on the drive from the grocery store, didn’t seem like such a bargain once you got  home. Pop them in the freezer until you’re ready to blend a strawberry-banana smoothie. 

 Don’t Fall Prey to Food Vanity Syndrome ©. 

Have mercy on ugly fruits and vegetables. Ugly food is still safe and nutritious. I get a kick out of the “Ugly” Fruit and Veg Campaign’s food photos. They are centerfold worthy. I find their food waste reduction tips attractive too. 

 EAT Your Leftovers 

Don’t just bring them home, gratified that you didn’t eat a gargantuan portion all at once, or push them to the back of the fridge only to add them to the bin on trash pick-up day, or surprise yourself by lifting the lid of  a sour cream container… only to find fuzzy fruit salad from 2 weeks ago. Cool them quickly. Keep them refrigerated. Use clear containers. Date them. Store them where you can see them. Reheat them to 165 ºF. Stir them in the process to eliminate cool spots.

Shop More, Purchase Less

Restock fresh items mid-week, rather than buying in bulk, only to find half have spoiled before you used them. Check the fridge and pantry before a grocery run to avoid purchasing doubles.

 Check your Phone

The Food Keep App designed by the USDA, Cornell University and Food Marketing Institute has an extensive list of foods and how long they keep for, but it’s a little overwhelming. For  quick guide use this handy KeepSafe Food Refrigerator Magnet with Safe Storage Guide (our #1 requested item), which puts the information right on your fridge.