State Partnership Launches “Don’t Waste Food S.C.” Campaign to Reduce Food Waste

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Don't Waste Food SC

Just in time to end my food waste series, South Carolina just announced a new campaign to fight food waste. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, S.C. Department of Commerce and S.C. Department of Agriculture recently announced Don’t Waste Food S.C. – a collaborative campaign to reduce the number one item thrown away in the state: wasted food.

One out of six people struggle with hunger in the United States, yet food waste is the single largest component being sent to landfills and accounted for 21 percent (35.2 million tons!) of the nation’s waste in 2013. South Carolina alone produced an estimated 607,000 tons of food waste in fiscal year 2015.

Don’t Waste Food S.C. is aimed at educating and empowering individuals, businesses and communities to take action by preventing, composting or donating surplus food. The campaign is working towards a goal of reducing food waste in the state by 50 percent by 2030.

The partners are working together to connect food surpluses to those in need, enhance infrastructure for composting and educate consumers, communities and businesses about what they can do to join the initiative.

For more information, educational resources and to get involved in the Don’t Waste Food S.C. campaign, visit www.scdhec.gov/dontwastefoodsc. The website features great resources including tip sheets, meal planning + shopping lists, shopping guides and composting information.

 

Ten Easy Tips for Meal Planning

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Meal Planning

One of the ways you can be a Food Waste Warrior is to start planning meals in advance. That can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Arm yourself with these ten easy tips from SaveFood.org and you’ll be scheduling meals and saving food like a pro in no time at all. (I started planning my meals several years ago when I switched to a plant-based diet, and I consider myself a pretty good meal planner – but even I learned something from these tips.)

  1. DON’T START FROM SCRATCH: Successful meal planning doesn’t have to mean hours spent with a cookbook. Start with your go-to meals. Repeat them every week or two. Then, if you’re up for it, toss in something new every once in a while.
  2. CHECK THE REFRIGERATOR: Next week’s meals get their start in the refrigerator. See what needs to be used up, and then think of a meal to make with those items. Check your pantry for the rest of the ingredients and add missing pieces to the shopping list. Voilà. Meal one? Check.
  3. USE PORTION PLANNERS: Portion calculators can help you feed a big group, but they can offer insight too — like why there’s always so much extra rice. Find your favorite by doing a Google search for “portion planner.” I like this one from the ‘For Dummies’ franchise.
  4. HAVE KITCHEN ESSENTIALS HANDY: Stock up on two or three grains, cooking fundamentals, key spices, and easy-to-use sauces like barbecue and enchilada sauce. They can come to the rescue and bring new life to old meals and leftovers.
  5. USE BUILDING BLOCKS: Pick two types of protein, one or two grains, and a vegetable medley to make at the beginning of the week and incorporate into different meals. For instance, a sauté of broccoli and peppers can be used as a side one night, spooned onto enchiladas another night and worked into a soup or meatloaf later in the week.
  6. THINK DOUBLE DUTY: Planning a Tuesday taco night? Think about other ways to use those tortillas. Asian salad wraps, perhaps? Ingredients sometimes come in larger portions than we need. If you plan a second meal around them, it’s easier to avoid the end-of-the-week overload and unused or spoiled food.
  7. SCHEDULE A LAZY NIGHT: We often go to the store hoping to prepare fresh meals all week, but the truth is we often don’t have the time or energy to cook every night. Plan a few lazy nights that don’t require cooking and take the opportunity to order takeout or dine with friends. (This is where I get an Amy’s frozen pizza, which is the perfect “don’t feel like cooking or cleaning, but still semi-healthy” meal.)
  8. GO FRESH FIRST: To preserve freshness and nutrition, use perishables like seafood and meat earlier in the week and save staples (pasta, dairy, omelets) for later in the week. Some greens, like kale and chard, will stay fresh longer than others.
  9. LEAN ON FROZEN INGREDIENTS: Frozen foods have nearly all of the nutrients and sometimes more than their fresh counterparts. And they don’t go bad. Plus, frozen vegetables fill in the gaps. You can buy fresh vegetables in smaller amounts without ending up veggie-less at the end of the week.
  10. COOK AND FREEZE: Soups, stews, casseroles, and lasagna can all be made in large batches and then frozen and defrosted when you need a quick dinner. To keep it easy, always freeze in the portion sizes you’ll want to defrost.

Deciphering Dates on Products

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Expired

In 1968, treasure hunters discovered a Civil War-era steamboat at the bottom of the Missouri River. Among the items recovered were several intact cans of food. Six years later, scientists opened the cans to find perfectly edible peaches, oysters, and tomatoes. They had stayed unspoiled for over a century. So why do modern canned foods claim to expire in a matter of months?

Here’s the truth: Food expiration dates have nothing to do with safety, and are only loosely related to quality. They’re the manufacturer’s best estimate of when the product is at its freshest or “peak quality.” Many foods will still be good to eat days, weeks, or months after those dates, depending on the food.

If you’ve been throwing food out on these dates, you’re not alone. According to one industry study, 90 percent of us occasionally throw away food too soon, and over half of us do it regularly. All due to a simple misunderstanding about package dates. Okay. If the expiration date doesn’t tell you when food goes bad, how do you know if it’s still good?

Let’s start with the difference between contamination and spoilage. Most of the microbes that spoil food are harmless for humans. In fact, some favorite foods and beverages, like yogurt, cheese, and wine, are made using controlled spoilage.

Contamination, however, is due to a pathogen — a microbe that can make us sick. It’s due to poor handling — like allowing food to come into contact with raw chicken — rather than keeping food around for too long. Contamination related to extended storage doesn’t really happen. The president of the Institute of Food Technologists once said, “In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can’t think of [one] that was driven by a shelf-life issue.”

Here’s how to sort out just what those dates mean:

Best before Mar 11 2016
These dates refer to quality rather than food safety. It’s the date before which the brand stands by its product (unless it’s been opened or left out in warm temperatures). Foods with a “best before” or “use by” date should be safe to eat after the date has passed, but they may no longer be at their very best. This is true for “best by,” “best if used by,” “enjoy by,” and other similar expressions.

Beware the danger zone
The main criterion for evaluating food safety is the amount of time food spends in the temperature “danger zone” (40 – 120 °F). If you leave food out on the counter or in a hot car, it could be unsafe even before the date on the package, regardless of what phrase you see.

Sell by June 22 2016
You can ignore these dates as they are meant for store staff. They actually build in quality so that if the food is sold by that date, you can still get it home and have top-quality shelf life for some time.

Use your eyes and nose
For the most part, you can trust your senses to know when food has gone bad. Milk, yogurt, juice, sauces—they can all be subject to the sniff or taste test. Even meat that looks a little faded or gray may okay to eat. The products to be careful with are those they tell pregnant women to avoid—like deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products—and anything with mold.

Freeze by July 20 2016
One good way to extend the life of food beyond its date is to freeze it. It’s like pushing the pause button on your food. Almost anything can be frozen—meat, milk, cheese, eggs, bread, unused pasta sauce. (For a great guide on freezing foods, see this article from Good Housekeeping.)

Shopping Guidelines for Wanna-Be Food Waste Warriors

 

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Food WasteThe grocery store is where you commit — to spending both money and the resources it took to grow the food — even if it doesn’t get eaten. That’s why careful shopping is the fastest, easiest way to cut food waste. Here are a few ideas to help:

  1. Make a list: Research has shown that shoppers who use and stick to written lists—only about 25% of us—have lower grocery bills and make fewer shopping trips. They’re also less susceptible to impulse buys.
  1. Skip the cart: Bigger dinner plates encourage us to eat more, and bigger carts call us to fill them. Hand baskets can help improve your grocery store discipline. Plus, you can count it as strength training.
  1. Scrutinize deals: Five bananas for a dollar is a good deal only if you eat all five. Also, many stores offer the sale price even if you buy less than the stated quantity. If you’re unsure, ask.
  1. Shop the bulk bins: Many stores offer grains, nuts, spices, and other dry goods in bulk bins that allow you to purchase only the quantity you need. This is very helpful if you just need ingredients for a specific recipe.
  1. Use the salad bars: For mixed vegetable dishes or salads that call for small amounts of different types of vegetables, shop the salad bar. They will cost more per ounce, but less overall. On top of that, they’re also already prepared, which is a real time saver for busy cooks.
  1. Use a portion planner: When you’re not sure how much you’ll need for your dinner party, use your smart phone to consult an online portion planner. My favorite portion planner is at Love Food, Hate Waste, a great UK site.
  1. Keep it cold: Buy perishable and frozen foods last so they spend less time at room temperature. And be sure to shake the water from produce—water encourages rotting and adds weight. If you won’t be home for a while, keep a cooler in your car.
  1. Be okay with imperfections: Scarred and oddly shaped fruits and vegetables are perfectly normal. If we don’t buy them, the store will toss them in the trash. (If you’re on Instagram, be sure to follow @uglyfruitandveg for some pretty fun pictures of imperfect produce.)
  1. Buy the last one: People often avoid buying the last item on the shelf. Be a grocery store contrarian. Buying these loners discourages stores from overstocking just to create the appearance of abundance.

It’s Time to Save the Food

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Did you know that about 40% of all food produced in America is wasted? That’s like buying five bags of groceries and dumping two of them in the trash before you even bother bringing them home.

Lots of GroceriesAll that food waste is a terrible waste of money and natural resources.

Think about it:

  • The average family spends $1,500 a year food it simply dumps.
  • And 25% of our America’s fresh water goes into producing food that never gets eaten.
  • Reducing food waste by even one third could feed all 50 million food-insecure Americans.

The good news: there’s something you can do about it. The better news: it’s easy. And you’ve got everything you need, right in your refrigerator.

In my next few posts, I’ll be explaining how you can help save the food and perhaps some money for your family in the process. I’ll provide shopping advice, meal planning information and food storage tips that will help you cut food waste, while saving money and the planet.

10 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Did you know that American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy? For a family of four, that adds up to a loss of between $1,365 to $2,275 each year. In addition to being bad for your pocketbook, there are many other negative implications to food waste: it pollutes our air, wastes valuable natural resources, creates public health concerns and costs a lot of money.

Food waste

If there is any good news about food waste, it is that as individuals, we can implement small changes that make a big difference in the amount of food we throw away each year. Here are ten easy ways you can reduce your food waste and perhaps even save some money in the process:

  1. Shop smart. Plan meals, use grocery lists and don’t shop when you are hungry. This way, you’re less likely to buy things you don’t need and that you’re unlikely to actually eat. Also, check your fridge/freezer/pantry for the things on your list to be sure you aren’t buying duplicates of items that you already have.
  2. Practice FIFO or First In, First Out. When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of the fridge/freezer/pantry and put new products in the back. This way, you’re more likely to use up the older stuff before it expires.
  3. Designate one meal each week as a “use it up” meal. Look around in the cupboards and fridge for leftovers and other food that might otherwise get overlooked. Challenge yourself to create a meal using those items; there are actually televisions shows created around such challenges.
  4. Store better. If you regularly throw away stale chips/cereal/crackers, store them in airtight containers so they’ll last longer.
  5. Compost! Start a compost pile in the backyard or even under the sink, and convert food waste into a useful resource.
  6. Split the dish. If eating out, split a dish with a friend so you don’t waste half of the giant portion sizes found at many restaurants.
  7. Take home leftovers. If splitting meals isn’t your thing or your dining companion is getting something you don’t like, those portion sizes don’t have to be wasted. Just ask to take leftovers home, and you’ve got yourself a free lunch the next day.
  8. Understand expiration dates. Expiration dates don’t always have to do with food safety; rather, they’re usually manufacturers’ suggestions for peak quality. If stored properly, most foods stay fresh several days past the “use-by” date.
  9. Serve small amounts. Serve small amounts of food with the understanding that everybody can come back for more once they’ve cleared their plate. This is especially helpful for children, whose “eyes are usually bigger than their stomachs.” Any leftovers can be cooled, stored in the fridge and used another day.
  10. Freeze! If you only eat a small amount of bread, freeze it when you get home and take out a few slices a couple of hours before you need them. Likewise, batch cook foods so that you have meals ready for those evenings when you are too tired to cook.

Have you ever thought about the implications of food waste? Which of these tips are you willing to commit to? Do you have other suggestions?