While many have been looking for ways to cut back on spending in a tight economy, one thing that has stayed constant if not increased over the past decade is the amount of food wasted each year. American households throw away almost 25 percent of the food we buy – $40 billion worth of food that seemed appealing or necessary when we put it in our shopping carts, only to forget about it until it grows a fuzzy green coat, or the expiration date suddenly reads two holiday seasons ago.
Basically, we throw away every fourth item of food that is placed in front of us, and our food waste adds up to $1,365 to $2,275 per family each year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit environmental organization.
Much of the waste comes from buying too much food which inevitably leads to the food either spoiling before we can use it or going in the garbage after a meal. Fruits and vegetables lead the list of throwaways followed next by dairy and then meats. Milk spoils, eggs expire, meat turns a funky color and we toss it without giving it a second thought.
“When in doubt, throw it out!” right?
The NRDC says not so fast. Except for certain baby foods, label dates such as “use by” and “sell by” are just unregulated manufacturer suggestions which don’t indicate food safety. If you have children you’re likely to waste at least 40 percent more food than your bachelor friends, a habit that many parents blame on their little “picky eaters.”
And as for milk, eggs, and meat? Store-bought eggs can last several weeks past their carton date and even longer if coated in olive oil or similar cooking oil. The color change on beef is often just oxidation and according to Eat By Date, milk lasts 5-7 days beyond the expiration date.
Previous generations weren’t always so wasteful. Those who lived through the Great Depression, and our parents who were managing a household in the 60’s and 70’s knew how to stretch a grocery budget wisely, even when food costs were much higher than they are today (adjusted for inflation). Today, we throw out 50 percent more food than we did in 1971!
The NRDC report concludes that reducing food waste by just 15 percent would eliminate 25 percent of the methane gas emissions in the U.S., which are 21 times more potent than CO2 gases. This 15 percent reduction in food waste would also feed more than 150 million impoverished Americans each year. So, by curbing our food waste habits we can save the planet, feed the hungry, and save an extra $100-$200 per month!
Want to save some serious cash on your monthly grocery costs? Here are some steps you can take to reduce food waste in your home:
• Don’t go shopping hungry. Being hungry leads to impulse buying in an irrational attempt to satisfy a need immediately. When you’re hungry everything looks good.
• Make a meal plan or grocery list and stick to it. Having a grocery list and resisting the urge to stray from the list will help you move quickly through the store and keep you on your budget. Studies show the longer you stay in a store the more money you’re likely to spend.
• Buy only what you need, and then cook what you buy. Check your cabinets and refrigerator before you shop to avoid buying duplicates. In addition to a meal plan and grocery list, this will help keep your grocery bill lean.
• Expand your recipe collection. Find recipes that make the best use of what you have at home, especially perishable items like vegetables and meats. Don’t like eating the same thing twice in a week? With little effort you can easily turn leftovers into soups, salads, and stews.
• Learn when food goes bad. Except for certain baby foods, “sell-by” and “use-by” dates are just the manufacturers suggestions for peak quality – expiration dates aren’t regulated and don’t indicate food safety. Most foods can safely be consumed after their use-by dates. See Eat By Date for shelf life info on just about any food.
• Freeze foods that aren’t going to be used right away. Bread stays good in the freezer for up to six months.
With those six easy changes, you may find there’s a subtly hidden bounty of monthly cash in your food shopping habits that can be tapped for even greater savings.