Green News: Reducing Food Waste

A University of Vermont study found that Americans waste nearly 150,000 tons of food per day. According to the EPA, “more food reaches landfills than any other single component of municipal solid waste.” Food rots in landfills, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. “Additionally, large amounts of water and other resources are used to grow and process food. More than a quarter of the total freshwater consumption per year in the United States is used to grow wasted food.”

Avoiding food waste starts with smart shopping. Plan menus and shop from a list. Shop weekly—or even twice a week. You’re more likely to buy only what you need for the next few meals if you shop more often. Avoid buying in bulk.

Fruits and vegetables make up a big percentage of wasted food. Here are some tips:

  • Onions that sprout green shoots are still safe to eat.
  • Cut off lightly greened patches on potatoes, but throw away any potatoes with large green areas. Cut off long sprouts on a potato, along with the eye.
  • Tomatoes with dry scars are fine to eat. Cut around bigger scars. Avoid tomatoes that show mold or rot.
  • Apples with patches of brown, corky skin are fine to eat.
  • Throw out moldy fruits, especially soft ones like peaches and blueberries. For hard foods such as carrots, you could cut off the moldy area and eat the rest. One moldy strawberry does not contaminate the entire basket of berries.
  • Use peels, stems, and seeds in your cooking. (More about this next month.)

A lot of food is thrown away because of confusion about “use by” dates. According to the USDA, “the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety. Food products are safe to consume past the date on the label, and regardless of the date, consumers should evaluate the quality of the food prior to its consumption. . . . Manufacturers provide dating to help consumers decide when food is of best quality. Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety.” Food should be thrown away when it is spoiled—this can be determined not by “use by” dates but by smell, flavor, or texture.