Andrea Ayala

Andrea Ayala

Food waste is a growing concern globally, especially in the United States. The Food and Agriculture Organization defines food waste as “discarding … of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption along the entire food supply chain, from primary production to end household consumer level.” To put it simply, food waste refers to any edible portion of food discarded before consumption.

On a global level, humans discard approximately one-third of all food produced yearly. In the United States alone, about 150,000 tons of food is wasted daily. While government agencies are already working to reduce this, individuals can work on reducing their own food waste.

Truthfully, I could point fingers at myself for being guilty of wasting food. Life doesn’t always go as planned, resulting in drive-thru dinners instead of eating food from home and then throwing out fresh food I intended to use before it spoiled. In the U.S., each person wastes about one pound of food each day. It’s important that we each start trying to reduce that number. But where do we start? There are several ways to start making a change without feeling like you’re making drastic changes to your lifestyle.

First, start planning meals in advance. Take some time once a week to sit down and plan what you’ll be eating at home. Work with your own schedule and be realistic – if you know there is a busy day that won’t allow for cooking, plan for leftovers or dining out. By planning out meals as much as possible, grocery shopping is made easier. Your list should be composed of food items that you know will be consumed that week. A bonus: you save money by avoiding extra “just-in-case” items. Odds are, if you purchase things you know will be consumed,then you’ll reduce how much spoiled food gets tossed in the trash.

Keep your fridge organized so it is easy to see everything inside. Before going shopping, take a look at what is still in the fridge and try to find a use for it before buying additional items. It’s easy for items to get pushed into hiding spots over time as we buy more from the store. If you know there is a perishable item that you don’t have a way of using before it goes bad, put it in the freezer to buy yourself some time to find its purpose.

Every food item has a date stamped on it somewhere. However, that date can cause a lot of confusion as to when the item should be thrown out. Those dates can represent an expiration date, but they can also indicate other things. Labels with “best by” or “expires on” tell consumers that food should be thrown out after the date listed. Items with “sell by” indicate it should be purchased by that date to allow consumers at least one week to use the item before expiring. Keep these differences in mind when grocery shopping or restocking at home. If you keep multiples of the same items, make sure to organize them in a manner that places the most recently purchased items at the far end of your stack, leaving older items toward the front. This is called the “first in, first out” method, reminding us to use older items first, minimizing the risk of food expiring before consumption.

Big changes often start small but add up quickly and exponentially. Take some time to evaluate some of your own habits and how you could make little adjustments to your daily routine to reduce food waste.

Andrea Ayala is a dietitian with Detar Healthcare System.

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