Nothing is worse than having to throw out food you just bought after finding out it has gone bad; especially when you are on that student budget, where food lost = money lost.
Food waste is a costly, and growing problem. Annually, Canada wastes $31 billion worth of food each year. (1) And a lot of this problem stems from inside our own homes, where 47% of all food waste occurs. (2)
Globally, one-third of the food that we produce is wasted. (2) When food is wasted, we are not only losing our food to landfills, where it turns into methane gas and contributes to our climate change crisis, but we are also wasting the valuable resources that are used to produce, transport, and store this food. (3) If you think about it on a bigger scale, the amount of water, gas, energy, and human labour that goes into getting our food to our table can become overwhelming.
So how do we combat this challenge? How do we reduce our food waste and carbon footprint to be more kind to our environment?
Well here are 27 small steps you can take to start reducing food waste:
1. Keep a running inventory of foods you have. Having a list of foods you have vs. foods you need will help guide your grocery list.
2. Plan your meals in advance and shop with meals in mind. Meal prep your week in advance before going grocery shopping so you know exactly what you need.
3. Create a grocery list and stick to it. Creating a grocery list will allow you to avoid making unnecessary purchases or over-purchases on food items that will likely go to waste.
4. Be label savvy. It is important to understand the different types of labels on our foods and what they mean. Often a misconception is that the “best before date” on foods means that is the date of which the food will no longer be safe to eat. This is not true. The “best before date” indicates the period of time in which the food will be at its best quality. Foods that are past their “best before date” are still safe to consume as long as they do not show any signs of spoilage (off-smells, mould, bulging of cans, etc.).
5. Give the funny looking veggies and fruit a try. To meet consumers’ expectations, many “ugly” or “imperfect” fruits and vegetables go to waste. But despite their blemishes and misshapen looks, imperfect produce is just as nutritious and safe to consume as perfect produce. Best of all, imperfect produce tends to cost less, meaning more money in your wallet.
6. Use the first in, first out (FIFO) method. The FIFO is a more efficient method of storing food, where you simply use your older food first. To keep track of your food, an easy trick is to label your food, like canned beans or frozen meat, with the date of which you purchased them, so you know which ones to use first.
7. Check that your fridge is at or below 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) and your freezer is at or below -18 degrees Celsius (0 degrees Fahrenheit). Storing your foods at these temperatures are not only optimal to keeping them fresher longer, but they are also essential for keeping your food safe. When fridges and freezers are set at warmer temperatures, this can lead to growth of harmful bacteria that can make you very sick. It is best to periodically check the temperature of your fridge and freezer by using a thermometer.
8. Do not store milk products and eggs in your fridge door. The fridge door is the warmest part of your refrigerator. Storing milk products and eggs will lead your food to spoil faster, and may put you at risk of getting sick.
9. When ripening, some fruits produce a natural gas called ethylene that can speed up the ripening process of other foods in your fridge. Keep foods like apples, bananas, and tomatoes separate from your other produce, like on a countertop, to avoid this from happening.
10. Don’t have the counterspace?! Control the ripening process by keeping ethylene producing fruits and vegetables in loosely tied bags and by storing them in low humidity crispers/drawer.
11. Plan your meals and snacks so that you consume foods that often spoil, first. For example, berries tend to last only one week. Eat them first before eating hardier fruits like apples or citrus fruits.
12. Wash your fruit before you eat them. Washing them in advance can lead to mould growth.
13. Avoid cutting your vegetables, fruits, and cheese beforehand. Storing cut-up foods can cause them to spoil faster.
14. Don’t toss the wilted veggies! Throw wilted vegetables like celery, carrots, or broccoli in a cold, ice water bath to give them new life.
15. Produce past it prime? No worries - there are plenty of ways to turn your veggies and fruit into delicious meals and snacks.
Stir fry dumps. Take your wilted veggies and throw them in a veggie stir fry! No one will know the difference between fresh or wilted as stir-frying softens vegetables to begin with.
Sneaky soups and clever casseroles. Boost your vitamin, mineral, and fibre intake by adding past-its-prime produce to your soups and casseroles.
Smooth moves smoothies. Have mushy berries or bruised bananas sitting around? Toss them in the blender for a fruity beverage.
Beloved baked goods. Give your bendy veggies and unappealing fruit a brand new spark by adding them to your muffins, breads, or cookies! Adding past its prime produce will not only add flavour to your baked goods but also increase its fibre content.
16. Having a hard time finishing off your fresh produce before it goes bad? Give frozen and canned fruits and vegetables a try. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh ones! Best part of all is that they tend to last longer and cost less.
17. If you don’t plan on cooking all your meat in one go, transfer your meats from its packaging into individual freezer bags. Lay the portions out separately and flat so that they freeze evenly.
18. Try plant-based proteins. Plant-based proteins are a great source of protein and fibre, and tend to cost less than animal products. Some examples like canned or dry beans and lentils are also shelf stable meaning they last longer.
19. Air is not your friend when it comes to the freezer. Remove air from freezer bags, and tightly wrap your food before putting it in the freezer to prevent freezer burn.
20. Freeze bread you won't be able to get to in time.
21. To prevent your cereals and crackers from going stale, store them in air-tight containers.
22. Make once, eat twice. Use your leftovers for lunch the next day or reinvent them to create a whole new meal. Made chilli for dinner for one night but not feeling like chilli the next night? Add brown rice, your favourite burrito fillings, and wrap it all in a corn tortilla to have a burrito night instead.
23. Try canning or pickling extra fruits and veggies.
24. Sharing is caring. Offer extra helpings to your roommates or neighbors when you make large batch meals or fresh baked goods.
25. Donate any non-perishable foods. Support your local food banks or food pantries by donating non-perishable food items that you won’t get around to using. Make sure you double check the expiration dates!
26. Seek out farmers who take produce to feed their farm animals. Have some bendy carrots or spud-tastic potatoes kicking around? Reach out to your local farms or animal sanctuaries to see if they will take donations.
27. Monitor what you are throwing out. Documenting foods that you are throwing away can identify patterns. If you notice that you are consistently throwing away a certain food product, it may be time to re-think your purchase or the way you store your food.
Reducing your food waste does not have to be a huge overhaul of your purchasing habits. Slowly including one or two of the tips provided above is a huge step in the right direction.
For more tools and resources to help you start your journey, check out:
Food: Too Good to Waste Implementation Guide and Toolkit - tools and resources on how you can combat food waste at the household level.
Guelph Family Health Study’s Rock What You’ve Got Recipes For Preventing Food Waste - a fantastic cookbook developed for families by the University of Guelph’s Guelph Family Health Study and George Brown College's Culinary Arts school . The cookbook provides tips on how to store your food to reduce food waste, and 30+ recipes on 2-in-1 meals, fridge-clean out, and zero-waste.
FlashFood - a Canadian start-up app that allows you to browse local grocery stores and the latest deals on fresh produce. The company is committed to fighting food waste.