The food money pit: How food waste costs thousands and how to stop it

Published: Tuesday, June 5 2012 10:37 a.m. MDT

"Stick to the list in the store," Bloom said. "Don't be tempted by all those fabulous sights and smells."

But if the store is close enough, Bloom recommends more frequent stops at the store for fewer items at a time.Bloom, for example, goes to the store in Durham, N.C. three or four times a week.

Simple solutions

Taylor says the solution to much of a household's food waste is simple. Before people go shopping, they need to inventory what they have. They need to look into their refrigerator and freezer and the pantry.

The next step is to see what still-good items are closest to going bad and the things that are close to the expiration dates.

Then, people need to make a meal plan utilizing these items — and write down on the shopping list any additional items to make those meals.

"And always make a little bit extra for leftovers," she says.

Taylor also said leftovers are a problem. "People poorly manage their leftovers," she said. "They chuck them."

She says the key to leftovers is to not eat the same thing twice by making a meal plan that incorporates the leftovers in a subsequent meal. "And make it a meal that's tasty," she said. "You don't have to have the same chicken dinner day after day."

For example, you could make a chicken dinner one day. The next day could be chicken stir-fry or a chicken sandwich. Or put the chicken in a salad. Make chicken soup. Chicken stew. Chicken pot pie. "There are a billion recipes to make things with chicken," Taylor said. "Make something you want."

There is no reason to have the same meal twice if you do not want to.

Arranging food properly in the refrigerator also affects how fast it spoils, Taylor said. For example, milk shouldn't be kept on the door because it isn't as cold as in the center of the fridge. Set the right humidity level for produce drawers. Keep leftovers near the front of the fridge.

And cut back on all the food clutter of condiments. "Store food in your fridge," she said. "Pare it down."

Bloom has his own tips to cut back on waste — starting with how much is served at meals. He said to give smaller portions at first while making it comfortable for people to take seconds if they want. "We get this idea from restaurants that serving a massive amount of food is the norm when it shouldn't be," he said.

Bloom calls the freezer a "waste delayer" because it can extend the life of things approaching the expiration date.

He also said people should treat expiration dates as a guideline, not as definitive dates. "People think they won't be able to tell if something is bad," he said. "They are underestimating their inherited senses of smell and taste that have developed in the species over millennia."

Facing food facts

It is just a fact that good healthy foods are going to spoil if they are not used, Taylor said.

Fresh produce, fruits, vegetables, salads and meat. "It's all going to go bunk on you quicker than you can say yummy," she said.

But if Taylor and Blooms tips are followed, less will go bad. And that means an extra boost for the environment as well.

Bloom said people don't realize the amount of natural resources that go into producing food. "To throw out that food is squandering those precious resources," Bloom said.

The PLoS ONE study said food waste accounts for more than one quarter of the United State's total freshwater consumption and about 300 million barrels of oil every year. In total — looking at waste from production to consumption, 40 percent of food is wasted in America.

But in homes it doesn't have to be the case.

"Behavior change is difficult," Bloom admits. "But this is a situation where there is real self-interest in play. Why wouldn't you want to stop throwing away money and do the right thing for the environment by not throwing away food."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/madegroote

Who is wasting food

The U.S. Department of Agriculture surveyed studies of consumer food waste. More food is wasted in summer months. Younger children waste more food than older children. Females waste more than males. Higher income individuals waste more than lower income individuals. Larger households (with more children, of course) waste more than smaller households. People waste more food when they eat at a restaurant than when they eat at home.

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