8 tips for Cutting Back on Food Waste

June 28th, 2017

by Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN

The United States Department of Agriculture  (USDA) estimates that 30 – 40 percent of the food supply ends up as waste.  That translates to an estimated $161 billion dollars in food that ends up in landfills and millions of calories and nutrients lost, wasted money and increased methane gas emissions.


The USDA has set a goal to cut food waste in half by 2030.  While they are working on policy initiatives to make a difference, each one of us can take small steps to reduce the amount of food we throw away.

  • Plan ahead – This is probably the single most important task any of us can do to reduce food waste. If we only buy what we need for the week you should have minimal food leftover and you’ll save money by not purchasing things you won’t use.
    • Take a few minutes each week to plan your meals. Pinterest has some great examples for menu planners!
    • Write out a shopping list. Then, buy only what is on your list!
    • Shop in your pantry and refrigerator first – don’t buy something you already have!
  • Smart Storage If you buy a lot of fresh produce or meat learn the best places to store different types of produce.
    • Some produce gives off a gas that can quicken the ripening of other produce so learning where and how to store them will prolong their shelf life.
    • Vacuum sealers and vacuum sealing bags are perfect for freezing meats and poultry and preventing freezer burn.
    • This infographic at org has tips for the best way to store different types of food.
  • Lovely Leftovers – It’s bound to happen. Your eyes were bigger than your stomach or you decided to make extra for later in the week.
    • Get the right storage containers for any extras. They will help prolong the storage life of food and make it easier for you to find things in the fridge or freezer.
    • Look for glass or clear containers or re-sealable plastic bags in various sizes work great. They lay flat in your freezer and are good space savers
    • Invest in a label machine or simply write on a piece of tape what it is and the date so you don’t end up with mystery food!
  • Ugly is the new beautiful – It might be a little brown, or have some nicks and cuts, but slightly aged food often can still be safely eaten and enjoyed.
    • Many supermarkets have started offering slightly aged produce. Use these items in soups, casseroles or freeze them quickly for use later.
    • Slightly “over the hill” bread makes great croutons or bread crumbs.
    • Aged bananas can be frozen and make great banana bread or muffins later, and frozen berries can easily be thrown into a smoothie.
  • Your Best Friend – The Freezer!
    • Have a little leftover fruit juice or wine? Place it in an ice cube mold and freeze it.  Add to sauce, casseroles or fruit crumbles later.
    • If you bought too much produce to use at once, clean it and freeze it in individual baggies for use later.
    • Freeze the chicken carcass from last night’s rotisserie chicken to make a flavorful chicken broth later.
  • Save those scrapes – Don’t throw away those pieces that you cut off produce or the ends of a loaf of bread – they can add flavor to stock or casseroles later.
    • The last of the celery or bag of carrots or tops you cut off along with the bottom of an onion can be frozen and then added to soups or stock later. Save them in your freezer!
    • The rind from Parmesan cheese can be thrown into soup and adds a ton of flavor!
    • Dry out the ends of a loaf of bread and process them into bread crumbs. Why buy a box when you can easily make these at home!
  • Fortify your garden – A compost pile is a natural fertilizer for your garden bed!
    • Start with a counter compost bucket (you can find a huge variety on Amazon.com) and add kitchen scrapes, coffee grounds and egg shells.
    • Head to your local extension office or garden center to learn about composting and what type would be best for your household.
    • Cornell University offers some excellent tips for how to learn small scale composting.
  • Best By Dates – This is probably one of the most confusing pieces of information on food packages. What does “Best by” really mean and how is it different from “use by” or “sell by”?  Once it reaches the date, should I throw it out?  Better safe than sorry, right?  Not necessarily!
    • “Best by” means that is the date to use it by for the best flavor or quality, but it is not a food safety indicator. Many products are perfectly acceptable after the best by date, so don’t be so quick to throw it out.
    • “Sell by” only tells the retailer how long to display an item. It also is not a safety indicator and products are still safe to eat after this date.
    • “Use by” or Freeze by” are also only indicate the dates for best quality. If you are close to the date or slightly after, either use the product or prepare it for freezing.


Here are some great websites for more ideas to cut back on food waste:

Environmental Protection Agency:  https://www.epa.gov

US Department of Agriculture:  https://www.fsis.usda.gov

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:  www.eatright.org

Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDNLaura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN is Manager of Nutrition and Regulatory Affairs for the StarKist Company in Pittsburgh, PA.  You can follow her on twitter @LauraAli_RD



Posted by: Julie Stefanski

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *