Reduce: Food Waste Part 2

13 May 2018
Many decisions we make around purchasing, storing and using our food can help us to reduce food waste. This is kind of like our first line of defense - a little planning and awareness here mean less to deal with down the line.

The statistics I shared the other week showed that one out of five shopping bags of food go to waste. Sometimes life happens, our best laid plans go awry and things get lost in the back of the fridge - but the more awareness at this stage the better.

Today I want to talk about planning before we shop, storing food and share a few food safety points.

Pantry storage.



I thought I'd share a few strategies that we use around here and some that readers have shared. There may be a few ideas or strategies that could help around your place. If you have any to add pop them in the comments below.

Before shopping

  • Check food supplies in the pantry, fridge and freezer. What is already on hand? What needs using up? I try and do this at least once a week or before I head to the shop.
  • Meal planning - I won't go into this in too much detail as I'm sure you're aware of all the benefits and various strategies to do it. Two things I'll highlight around food waste is that I meal plan with a list of any foods that need using (this includes things in the garden) and my schedule. If there are things on during the week that impact on my ability to use up food then I try to either plan around it (quick meal, freezer meal etc) or plan not to need food and therefore don't buy it.
  • Making a list and sticking to it definitely helps avoid any 'over-shopping' waste.

Food storage

Once you get the food home, how you store it will impact on the shelf life. A couple of strategies that help to keep food at its best:
  • Freeze any grains or flours for 24 hours to kill bugs/eggs - not nice to think about but very effective. If you have the space storing grains or flours in the freezer will increase their shelf life.
  • Take potatoes and onions out of any plastic bags - store in mesh bags/baskets in a dark cupboard. If I buy a big bag of potatoes I will sometimes store half in the fridge to extend their shelf life.
  • Wrap celery in foil - this is a game changer, crisp celery even after more than a month in the crisper (thanks Rhonda for this awesome tip)
  • Briefly soak strawberries in a bowl of vinegar and water and store in a container lined with something absorbent (paper towel or cloth).
  • Store herbs in a glass with water (like flowers) and cover top with plastic bag - this creates a mini greenhouse and they keep very well (if no one knocks the glass over in the fridge of course!)
  • Store veg in sealed plastic containers or bags in the crisper.
  • Freeze any meat that is not going to be used within 2 days.
  • Store nuts and seeds in the fridge or freezer to avoid oils going rancid.

Food Safety

I suspect a lot of unnecessary waste occurs in many instances because there is a lot of fear and uncertainty around food safety. Here are a few bits of information that I found useful to know:
  • Best before simply refers to quality of a food and not safety - theoretically you could eat a food product many many years after its best before date.
  • Use by dates are not a food safety time bomb - the food doesn't automatically go off once the date arrives. They are a guide, some foods will be ok after their use by dates have passed. This is particularly true for many dairy products. I remember a food microbiology lecturer at uni saying how he only bought the discounted yoghurt because, unless contaminated, it's completely safe to eat after the 'use by'. Although, I'd probably not test the theory on meat or chicken. Interestingly in the UK changes were made last year to go from use by to best before on hard cheese and pasteurised juices.
  • Freezing guides only relate to food quality. You could freeze something for 10 years and it would still be safe to eat as long as it has remained frozen, sure it'll be sporting some serious freezer burn after 10 years but it'll still be safe. There is no need to throw away food from the freezer because it's been in there 'too long'.
  • You can refreeze foods that have been defrosted in the fridge and will ultimately be cooked. If you get some meat out to cook dinner, defrost it in the fridge, but don't get around to using it that night then pop it back in the freezer. Don't do this if you defrosted on the bench or if you left it in the fridge for several days after defrosting.
  • Meats that have been frozen raw can still be frozen when cooked (I had a friend ask me this recently and I didn't realise it was something people worried about, but there you go).
  • Food left on the bench for up to 2 hours can be put back in the fridge. If it's been on the bench between 2-4 hours it's still safe to eat but not store. If it's been on the bench for longer than 4 hours it's time to go (hopefully into the compost or other resource recycling system).

Over to you. What tips do you have to reduce food waste in relation to food buying, storing and safety?

Further resources:



11 comments

  1. Hi Laura,

    My fridge and freezer these days looks a bit different to when I was young now that there is a lot more effort put into extending the life of foodstuffs and minimising waste! Lots of jars with nuts, seeds, rice, flour etc and home-made bits and bobs.

    I've only 3 plastic containers left in my life now, one in the freezer with the apple scraps for vinegar (working on a new batch as we speak and following your basic method - my previous batch is basically all mother now which is a bit alarming. Oh and I tested the pH and it's more alkaline than store bought ACV so that could be why it didn't work its magic as a hair rinse), one with carrots submerged in water (not sure where I found that idea but they last absolutely forever) and the last holds herbs.

    I wash and completely dry store-bought bunches of herbs in layers of tea towels then pick off the leaves and store them layered between kitchen paper in the last sealed container and the stalks go into the freezer for adding to stock. It's a bit of a palaver to do and takes up most of my kitchen bench while they dry but the effort is worth it as they last an incredibly long time, even dill lasts an age. This is also the last bastion for my use of paper towel - Mr P will not let them go from his life no matter how much I coax (ahem, nag!).

    Then I've got rooted things standing up in vessels of water when I can squeeze them in - leeks, asparagus (not rooted but the best way to store them), hydroponic lettuce with a loose bag over the top.

    There are always vegetable trimmings ready for stock making in the fridge and freezer, which is also the home for things I would never have considered when younger. Oh well, wisdom only comes with age!!

    You have written some good posts here, and thanks for the link to Zero Waste Chef too, where I've had a nice little browse today.

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  2. That's interesting to know about the ACV - I'm intrigued to test mine now.
    Thanks for sharing the extra storage tips. On a side note I also can't get MrGGE to give up paper towel completely either - but we've come a long way! Quick question - what do you store your leftovers, freeze stock in etc? Glass containers and jars? I'm slowly reducing the plastics cupboard but I do a lot of batch cooking and am always rummaging for extra things to store in. I think I need to do a call out for more jars - now that I make most of my own stuff I never seem to have enough!
    Glad you enjoyed the Zero Waste Chef. Lots of good stuff on there to be sure.
    Have a lovely weekend.
    Cheers,
    Laura

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    1. Some years ago I bought a load of those pyrex storage containers with the blue plastic lids. At the time I hummed and hahed about the lids being plastic but there weren't any other options and I wanted to replace everything in one go. They are perfect for leftovers and stock and are stackable. Very expensive, however, and no local stocks replacement lids.

      To save on space I've now started to make stock I want to freeze as a jellied reduction, then slice it into "cubes". I reduce a strained stock right down to a fraction of the original volume then add gelatine (just using powdered gelatine for now) and leave it in the fridge to set. I then cut it into jellied squares and freeze them. I just add as many as I need to water; it frees up so much space for my rather crowded small freezer.

      I got the idea reading about how in centuries past people travelled with bone broth as jellied stock cubes on long journeys to have something to picnic on. I can't remember where I read this - not even sure if it was an article or a recipe - but the suggestion was that the stock cubes would last well in those pre-refrigeration days. I thought I would just jar them up in the fridge but my first batch went mouldy after a few weeks so I now store them in the freezer. It may seem like a palaver, and there are the energy costs to consider when reducing stock down but ditto with the trade-off for larger freezers. Anyway, it seemed to work for our ancestors!

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  3. I enjoyed seeing the dried apple, in the initial photograph. Did you do that, yourself? It enters the preserving domain, which is an exciting process to be part of. I used to preserve a lot of chokos when I had a vine, and turn it into chutney. I read up, on proper canning techniques and got some rudimentary equipment, which has served me well. I like to preserve excess, when there is some. My chilli plant has been doing that for me lately, so now I make sweet-chilli jam.

    Similar to setting up composting systems, to deal with our waste - I recognised, I can't do a lot of preserving, at once either. I'm gradually mastering canning better, so I'm making more, every year. Next, I would like to get into drying food, with a home-made solar dehydrator. The biggest issue arising for me, is appropriate food storage space! We only have one pantry, and food has to stay in a cool, dry place (out of direct sunlight) to preserve its life longer.

    So maybe that keeps bearing in mind too, in relation to food storage. Where are you going to house it, and should you cap your endeavours to that limited space - until you can find more? Because if you're regularly buying more veg, than your crisper can carry, and it has to sit on the counter, it might spoil before you can get to eat it. I know that has happened a few times, here!

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    1. Yes, it was my first time drying apple this year and I'm really happy with results. Will have to dry at least 3 times as many next year as we are nearly through it already. Preserving is definitely a good way to reduce food waste and extend the seasons. I do a few things in really big batches but I find regular small batches are more achievable and help me chip away at building my stores, and also in using up bits and pieces before they go to waste.
      Yes, storage space is a juggle at times - I dream of a preserving pantry one day.
      It's a good point to raise in regards to food waste - if you can't store it properly than it may spoil more quickly. Definitely something to consider in the planning stage. Although I must admit I often get over-excited at fresh produce markets and definitely buy more than I need!!
      Cheers,
      Laura

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  4. Ooh definitely going to put our celery in foil now. Thanks for that tip! :D

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    Replies
    1. Hands down it's the best food storage tip I've ever read. You're welcome!

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  5. I recently started keeping rice in the freezer. I'd prefer to freeze it only for a day, but I wonder whether condensation will ruin it after taking it out.
    Have you ever experienced it? Does flour etc get moist after taking out of the freezer?

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    Replies
    1. Hey Nil, I find that if I freeze it in a sealed bag (generally the one I buy it in) and keep it sealed when defrosting that condensation hasn't been an issue.

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  6. I think the comment Chris made, about ensuring you have sufficient space for food storage, is a really good one. I only have a small pantry so I ended up making a shelf available in the linen cupboard, in the hallway just near our kitchen, and storing some stuff in there. I swear by keeping flours and nuts in the freezer/fridge too. Meg:)

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    Replies
    1. Yes, storage can definitely be an issue. I say bring back the cellar!

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