Save money by cutting food waste

I barely brushed the surface of combating food waste in a recent article, but the comments added so much to the article that I thought I could stop at just one. And then I found some more statistics.

In the U.S.:

  • We waste 40 percent of edible food
  • It costs $750 million just to dispose of the food we waste
  • And when you consider the extra costs of packaging, transporting, and storing wasted food, the overall cost of wasting food goes up to $165 billion.

But there's more — 33 percent of purchased meat is wasted, followed by 25 percent of seafood. Even 15 percent of purchased fruit is wasted. That's not good, especially when you consider that meat is so expensive, not to mention all food.

But what matters most is what happens in your household. And according to the same statistics, each U.S. household wastes between $28-43 per month on food. I've seen other statistics that put that number closer to $600 annually per household. That's not a huge amount of money, but wasting money on food doesn't make sense any way you slice (or dice or julienne or…) it.

Smart storage

Food storage has changed a lot since my grandparents were growing up in the 30s. They preserved their meat by smoking it. They killed a chicken after lunch and dressed it for dinner. They say that they ate bad apples all winter. They started out eating the not-so-good apples first, but by the time they got to the good apples, they weren't very good, either. (But I don't know. This comes from the same grandfather who walked up hill to school both ways. And I think he was barefoot in the winter, too.)

Without question, freezers and refrigerators have extended the life of produce and other foods, but I still waste food. I am getting better as using up the produce, but I am also trying to learn the best ways to store produce so it lasts as long as possible.

This winter, I noticed that my onions were getting moldy more quickly than they ever had before. After throwing out a handful of onions three times, I looked at how and where I was storing the onions. In a plastic bag, in a warm cabinet, next to a heat register. Well, according to the National Onion Association (doesn't that make you want to cry?), there was nothing right about that. Onions should be not be stored in plastic bags; they need to breathe and prefer a cool, dry, well-ventilated environment.

Potatoes also prefer a cool and dark, ventilated environment. A refrigerator, kept slightly warmer than normal, was recommended as a good place to store pounds of potatoes through the winter.

Refrigerator management

If you have produce drawers in your refrigerator that have different humidity settings, in general, vegetables should be at a high humidity setting. This keeps the water vapor inside the drawer which prevents vegetables from wilting.

On the other hand, fruits usually emit more ethylene gas and need low humidity settings. Some vegetables, like peppers and mushrooms, prefer low humidity. In general, foods that emit more gas usually have a shorter shelf life.

If you don't store your greens in the high humidity drawer, you can wash the greens and wrap them in damp paper towels. That makes them last much longer.

Tomatoes get mealy when placed in the refridgerator. So when we have a garden, I leave the tomatoes on the plant as long as possible. When we don't have a garden, I let the supermarket be my storage unit for tomatoes. But if I must store them at my house, I do my best to eat them quickly. If not, I may store them in the refrigerator.

Consider the temperatures of different parts of the refrigerator. The door is warmest, so foods with lots of sugar, salt, or vinegar are fine on the door. Milk can be kept on one of the middle shelves. Since the bottom of the fridge is coldest, keep meat there.

My leftovers get stored in a selection of containers, but my favorite ones are clear glass. Why? I waste much less food when I can see what's in each container when I open the refrigerator door.

Along with all these other tips, one more method of food storage extension is to not wash your produce until you're ready to use it (with the possible exception of greens).

Products to extend produce life

Other than storing items properly, using up produce quickly, and selecting quality produce in the first place, there are also other ways to extend the life of produce.

The BluApple absorbs ethylene gas which hastens ripening. When used in fruit bowls, dark areas where you store potatoes and onions, and produce drawers in the fridge, it triples the life of the produce — at least, that's the claim. I haven't used this product, so I can't say for sure. It costs $19.90 for two BluApples and a 12-month refill kit.

Tupperware sells another option. The FridgeSmart containers regulate airflow and have ridges on the bottom to prevent the fruits and veggies from sitting in condensation. I have used these. Not only do they keep my fridge organized, but things like celery seem to last much longer. A four piece set is $84, though you can purchase different sizes individually for less than $20.

Some people choose to fight food waste by allowing the supermarkets to store the produce for them. I think that's a great idea, but I live 15-20 minutes from a decent-sized grocery store. Also, we're going to be growing more of our own food this year which means I will probably (hopefully!) have lots of produce life to extend.

Many factors increase food waste which means there are many factors to improve to decrease food waste. Which methods do you use? Do you think you waste as much food as these statistics say you do?

More about...Food, Frugality

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SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago

I hate throwing out food! Our main sources of food waste: 1. Plates of food that the kids won’t eat or that they maimed and then no one else wants to eat. Case in point: my son will pick the cheese off pizza. He’s 2, what can I say? 2. Tried it and didn’t like it. No one wants the rest. 3. Power outages. Even though I live in a city of 1 million people, we’ve had several extended power outages. Last year, a derecho that came through and we were without power for 5 days in temperatures of 95F.… Read more »

Lucille
Lucille
7 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

That’s happened to me too, twice in 18 months. It really sucks. I had a standing freezer but after dumping the contents the 2nd time (after Hurricane Sandy), I was afraid to fill it up again, so now it’s operating as a “credenza” in the laundry room (LOL).

I don’t know what the answer is to wasting food after a power outage. It really is unpredictable.

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
7 years ago

Even though I don’t eat pickles or salsa (but Hubby does), I can produce in the summer and fall. I just brought bread and butter pickles to my church picnic to good reviews. Think of canning as doing some of the cooking ahead of time. One year, teachers’ holiday gifts were apple butter I canned in the fall. Saved a lot of hassle at a busy time of year.

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago

I try to make sure we don’t waste much food, but there’s inevitably some that isn’t consumed. We frequently have a smidgeon of leftovers that go into the refrigerator only to become a science experiment. It’s usually an amount that’s less than one serving size, so it’s not consumed for lunch the next day.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago

Here’s our suggestions:
http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/how-do-you-keep-from-wasting-food/

#1 is to use clear containers so you’re always reminded what’s in there.

My Financial Independence Journey
My Financial Independence Journey
7 years ago

I try to reduce food waste by planning meals that use similar ingredients. Mostly focusing on vegetables since those go bad the fastest. But since I live alone and don’t make bulk dinners there’s always going to be some food waste. Thankfully, the more my cooking has improved, the less waste seems to be present.

Debi
Debi
7 years ago

Meal planning around ingredients is key, especially now that we’re empty nesters. Neither of us minds leftovers and most meals are planned to be used twice. Meatloaf dinner one night becomes mock rubeun sandwiches later that week, the extra 1/2 grilled chicken breast becomes a chef’s salad, etc. Ends of bread, the other 3 hamburger bunes, etc go into the freezer. Later they’re toasted in the oven and become bread crumbs in the food processor. Parsley can be kept fresh for 3-4 weeks by wrapping tightly in a paper towel and storing in a zipper bag from which you’ve squeezed… Read more »

abby
abby
7 years ago

Meal planning has helped me reduce food waste. I plan out our meals for the week before I go grocery shopping, so (almost) everything I buy has a purpose – no more looking at items in the fridge approaching the end of their “good” time wondering what I can make with them!

Derek | MoneyAhoy.com - Money Saving, Making Money, and Investment Ideas
Derek | MoneyAhoy.com - Money Saving, Making Money, and Investment Ideas
7 years ago

Another thing that I believe contributes to food wasting is the “consume by XXXX” date on food packaging.

Very often my wife will be inclined to throw it away if it is “expired”. I realize it is probably there for consumer safety. But, I will typically keep it around and eat it if it doesn’t smell bad. This is especially true for things I consider non-perishable like starches/grains.

Debi
Debi
7 years ago

I absolutely agree. In fact a doctor friend of ours recommends the “smell test” for food safety. If it smells ok, it’s ok to eat. If it smells bad, throw it out.

Derek | MoneyAhoy.com - Money Saving, Making Money, and Investment Ideas
Derek | MoneyAhoy.com - Money Saving, Making Money, and Investment Ideas
7 years ago
Reply to  Debi

Vindicated!!!!

GingerR
GingerR
7 years ago

Shopping the European, just in time method doesn’t work for me. Trips to the store are time-consuming with my commute and impulse purchasing opportunities. I plan ahead and make one trip a week to the store.

I have several cutsy note pads and planners and keep my menu plan plus endless to-do lists out on the counter to remind myself about what’s on the menu for tonight.

Crystal
Crystal
7 years ago

We were wasting way too much, but now I make sure to check our fridge for leftovers daily to have for lunch. We also only buy things we will be eating this coming week or storing in the freezer after vacuum sealing it. We still end up wasting at least $2-$3 of food per week (like bad fruit or half a gallon of milk that goes bad before we use it all), but that is down quite a bit from last year.

Debi
Debi
7 years ago
Reply to  Crystal

Did you know that you can freeze milk? Advice from my friend the “freezer queen”!

Courtney @ FamilyGoneHealthy
Courtney @ FamilyGoneHealthy
7 years ago

We reduce food waste by planning our meals carefully every week. We try to use the same ingredients in a few different recipes which cuts down on food waste and also saves money. I go to the grocery store about once per week and cook the meals with the most perishable goods in the first few days and then have the more shelf-stable meals later in the week. This keeps us from having to toss out a lot of spoiled produce. We also started juicing, so if produce is going to go bad soon, we just toss it in the… Read more »

Brian @ Luke1428
Brian @ Luke1428
7 years ago

We definitely make sure we eat as many leftovers as we can. Plus, we try to plan our meals and purchase things I know my kids will eat. I want them to eat healthy but I also know I will have a struggle forcing some kinds of vegetables down their stomachs. Why buy them then if they are just going to be thrown out?

Jake @ Common Cents Wealth
Jake @ Common Cents Wealth
7 years ago

Wasting food is sometimes a problem in my household. We tend to let vegetables and meat go bad, especially if it’s in a place (like the bottom of the freezer) where we don’t normally look. My mom uses FridgeSmart containers and loves them. She bought us one that fits a loaf of bread in it and we’ve found it extends the life of our bread by quite a bit. They are great, little containers.

Educatie Financiara
Educatie Financiara
7 years ago

Wasting food is one of the biggest world problem ever. People usually Buy more than you consume. Lets change this..

mike
mike
7 years ago

I think a certain amount of waste is going to be unavoidable depending on your lifestyles, everyone has different situations. I focus on getting the best price up front when I can, buying exactly what I need, luckily we have a ton of grocery stores but I still only like to go once a week. I plan out my week. When I buy seasonal fruits and veggies (as they are cheaper) in bulk, I plan as much as I can around them. As the week is progressing I survey whats available and determine how to use it. With some things… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  mike

These days I waste nearly 0% because of judicious meal planning.

As for your uneaten bananas: freeze them and use them for smoothies.

Tina
Tina
7 years ago

I am OCD when it comes to food waste. Here are some of the things I do. Put potatoes in one bin in fridge and onions and green peppers in the other. Apples, bananas and grapes sit out for easy access. Use food saver to vacuum seal meats in portions we need. Reseal bags of lettuce and baby carrots to keep fresh and last longer. Meal plan– very important to use leftovers but change them so family doesn’t get tired of same meals. Think of weather too because you don’t want to heat up kitchen and pay more for air… Read more »

Esther
Esther
7 years ago

These statistics are horrifying considering how many people in the world go without clean drinking water, much less food. 1/3 of all meat and 1/4 of all fish. And we know how broken those systems are. It’s really disgusting. If folks were paying higher prices, they’d buy less, maybe eat less and definite waste less. I’m not one to really use the sell-by date. If I know it’s gone bad then it goes to the compost pile. (Hopefully one day it will go to some backyard chickens.) as a kid, my parents and grandparents didn’t accept wasted food – as… Read more »

Lucille
Lucille
7 years ago
Reply to  Esther

As much as I agree that the food waste is horrifying (and I have to get better at not letting things go bad), I think preventing food waste helps our personal budgets—it doesn’t really help the starving people in the world—unless we were to take the money we’re saving and direct it towards food equality or something. Meaning, the problem of starving people is alot bigger than my not throwing out some bananas. It has a lot to do with politics and how the nations in question (including our own) care for their poor. I wish our getting better at… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

A note on potatoes and onions: they taste great together with some eggs, and both need cool dry places, but if stored together they will rot each other.

S.P.
S.P.
7 years ago

I agree that meal planning is key, especially planning for leftovers. It’s just me and my husband, but I always cook meals with recipes for 4 to 6 servings. When a meal is ready to eat, I set up our 2 dinner plates and then 2 (or 4) Tupperware containers on the counter. I serve all 4 (or 6) portions at once. This reduces waste, reduces overeating (no seconds!), and eliminates my prep time for packing my lunch in the morning so I am more likely to bring my lunch instead of eating out. Give it a try!

Tammy @ Skinny Moms Kitchen
Tammy @ Skinny Moms Kitchen
7 years ago

I think one of my biggest pet peeves is throwing out food. The two ways I save on food waste is menu planning and freezer cooking. We rarely throw out large amounts (if any) of food out anymore.

Ironically,those are also the two strategies I have used to lose almost 40 pounds – so I guess you can say by menu planning and freezer cooking I ended up with a fat wallet and skinny jeans 🙂

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
7 years ago

I hate food waste and those stats are just plain crazy. I think meal planning as well as shopping so you can use ingredients for various meals is key. We also only go shopping once every 10 days as opposed to once a week. We started that a year or so ago and that has drastically cut down on our food waste.

Carla
Carla
7 years ago

Interestingly enough, grocery stores and restaurants waste a LOT of food. Consumers are the whipping boy for food waste but we are not only to blame. In my home, I’m a family of one so its easier for me to manage what goes in my kitchen and belly. I have no problem going food shopping 2+ times a week, especially since I live blocks away from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Fred Meyers. I consume a lot of vegetables on a daily basis (as well as meat, fish, eggs, etc). Because what I mostly eat is perishable, I make sure… Read more »

Courtney
Courtney
7 years ago

A tip for keeping tomatoes a bit longer is to buy the ones on the vine – they seem to keep for a week or so longer than off-the-vine tomatoes would.

Jamie@SoyMilkMustache
7 years ago

Great tips! Here are a few more random ones: ~On a sort-of opposite note, if you have food that is unripe (like hard avocados), they’ll ripen fast if you put them in the same bowl with apples. ~If you refrigerate bananas, the skin will continue to ripen but the fruit itself will stay preserved. It’s kind of crazy to have a brown-skinned banana with a perfect white banana inside, but it really works! (Trust me, I hate mushy bananas) ~My family has a farm, and when we harvest fruit we always clip the stem so that the fruit at least… Read more »

Susan
Susan
7 years ago

Ooh, love the banana tip – they are my biggest waste as I’m one of those that can’t eat them green, and can’t eat them brown! I’ll give this a go – put them in the fridge when they’re at the “perfect” stage!

Jamie@SoyMilkMustache
7 years ago
Reply to  Susan

Definitely try it! Also, if they do go bad out of the fridge you can peel them, break them into chunks, and freeze them for smoothies or sorbets. (Again, you’ve got a fellow anti-mushy-banana-eater here!)

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago

Mushy over ripe bananas can be peeled, cutup and frozen in a zip lock bag to put in your next smoothy. They make a wonderful thickener in a shake….that will not happen if the banana is not frozen. At least if you have to throw out old produce, put it is a compost or in a hole in the garden….so it goes to good use and back to the earth. One of the best things being done in recent years is on college campuses where they no longer let students use trays in the cafeteria….no loading up and then not… Read more »

Cindy Brick
Cindy Brick
7 years ago

Hooray that someeone mentioned chickens! Our Black Australorps are my secret weapon for utilizing spoiled or nobody-wannts-it food. They’ll even eat…chicken. My farmer parents kept a pig, which served the same purpose. The animal was slaughtered in the fall, giving them fresh meat all winter. I figure we get the same benefit by the fresh organic free-range eggs our chickies produce (and we sell). I even get day-old bread from our local thrift shop — loaves get put out once or twice a week. Other ways to use leftover food: calzones, pot pies, gravy dishes and stew. What we don’t… Read more »

Marcella
Marcella
7 years ago

In am both good and bad at food waste. I am very good at using odds and ends in the refridgerator to make up a meal. But this cooking on the fly habit, i.e. no recipes or meal plans means I am a bit haphazard in what I purchase. I don’t like meal planning though. It just does not work for me at all. I think having a consistent diet it key to reducing food wastage. One of my biggest sources of food wastage is yoghurt. I go through phases where I eat it regularly, and other times where I… Read more »

Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce
7 years ago

Growing produce in your own garden is also a great way to increase capacity, as well!

Debt Blag
Debt Blag
7 years ago

There are a lot of foods that naturally have a longer shelf life and, as it happens, a lot of them are both healthy and inexpensive; like lentils, dried beans, tofu…

Thomas | Your Daily Finance
Thomas | Your Daily Finance
7 years ago

I hate waste. People in the world are starving and you have people throwing away food either because they are full or just don’t want it. We tend to make sure we only cook whats going to be eaten and save the rest for lunch the next day. The one problem we have is milk we seem to never get it right we either never have enough or buy too much and it spoils.

Ely
Ely
7 years ago

This really isn’t a major problem for us. Occasionally the milk will go bad before I use it all – sometimes even before the expiration date, which makes me suspicious of the grocery store. And we recently cancelled mushrooms from our produce box, since I don’t like them and my husband won’t prepare food for just himself. But we never throw away meat or leftovers, and I work hard to use up the produce from our box before it can go bad. We eat a lot of veggies this way. 🙂 Of course I don’t count junk food. If people… Read more »

Mustachian
Mustachian
7 years ago

I used to shop for a week’s meals at the start of the week, and wasted a lot of food. Now, I do it the European way…I keep nonperishable staples around and replace as I use them up, but I buy the ingredients for a meal just before I cook the meal. I have a grocery store two blocks away and the other is only a half mile, so if I want exercise I go to the farther away one. I am wasting a lot less food now.

cathleen
cathleen
7 years ago

We handle this in a more Euro way as well.
Keep a well-stocked pantry of spices, non-perishables, etc. and then buy fresh fish, veg, fruits 2-4 times per week, depending. Easier to carry, get in and out of store. I’ll usually buy what’s on sale in season so save money that way too.

We don’t have kids and we do have a plethora of great stores near home and work so it works well for us, harder for some other types of families and locations.

Danielle
Danielle
7 years ago

A trick I learned from watching Jacques Pepin–put a plastic tub in the freezer (I use a Mountain High yogurt container). Dump in vegetable and meat leftover dribs and drabs, liquid from canned vegies, leftover gravy, etc. When it’s finally filled, unmold and dump the frozen lump in a pot and make stock (or soup, depending on what’s in there). This has saved a lot of parsley, outer leaves of various vegies, and the last chicken leg. Also, a dumb one that took me a while to figure out. If you shop once a week, start eating with the fragile… Read more »

Debi
Debi
7 years ago
Reply to  Danielle

“If you plan menus, don’t plan 7 days—plan 5 or 6. You’ll inevitably have leftovers or go out to eat on one day (or more).”

That’s what works for us. I plan 2-3 “new” meals a week. Another 1-2 are “used” meals, where I’ve preplanned to use the leftovers from the “new” meals. We eat out, or carry in, once a week and the other days are “whatever is in the refrigerator” days”.

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body
7 years ago

I never realized how much I wasted until my wife pointed it out. We have a way of saving how much food we waste by planning out our meals and creating a shopping list and sticking to it. This keeps us from any unnecessary items that might go bad. And we never head back to the store until all we have is used up.

Educatie Financiara
Educatie Financiara
4 years ago

I cook for my family 2 different types of meals every time, in quantities that I know that are enough for all. I prefer to cook more frequently, smaller quantities, than to cook larger quantities and throw away the food that is not eaten. I don’t understand why so many people are throwing away not just food but also things that are in a good shape… when others starve and don’t have even the basic things in their home.

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