13 Easy Ways to Cut Food Waste and Save Money
The average American wastes hundreds of dollars’ worth of food every year. Reclaim that money with these easy tips.
Here’s a shocking statistic: Some 30% to 40% of the food supply in the U.S. goes to waste each year, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The government now has ambitious goals for driving down the waste and loss in coming decades — in part to address the needs of Americans who need the food and in part to conserve on resources and prevent pollution from production of food that is not consumed.
That’s the big picture. But did you know that a huge amount of that waste happens at the household level? It can translate to hundreds of dollars of waste per person each year.
So, to help you bolster your budget and do your part in the effort, we’ve rounded up the best tips for fighting food waste.
Check fridge and freezer temperatures periodically
Cold temperatures cannot destroy the microorganisms that cause food to spoil, but sufficiently cold temperatures can significantly slow them down.
Refrigerators should be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Freezers should be kept at zero degrees.
Some experts and appliance manufacturers go colder, though.
The University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR), for example, recommends that fridge temps be set between 34 and 40 degrees. Samsung says the ideal temperature for French-door fridges is 37 degrees.
Like the FDA, the IANR recommends that freezers be set to zero degrees, noting that frozen food deteriorates more quickly when stored at higher temperatures.
Reorganize the fridge, freezer or pantry
If you frequently forget about the items in the bottom of your fridge or the back of your pantry shelves, reorganize. Or, try an organizational aid like a lazy Susan.
Make groceries last longer
Have you ever thought of keeping onions in pantyhose? Or mushrooms in paper bags? Storing specific foods in certain ways can extend their life.
Find new uses for excess food
Leftover mashed potatoes can double as a ready-made base for potato pancakes, for example, and extra grapes can be frozen and used later as creative ice cubes in mixed drinks. Flat soda can help scrub blackened pots and pans.
Track your trash
At least periodically, keep a log of all food items your household throws away.
Doing so will make you more mindful of how much food you lose to the trash can. That knowledge might help you lose less.
You’ll also be able to spot any patterns in the types of foods you throw away. That way, you will know when to buy less of a certain food.
Plan your meals
Take a little time once a week to plan out one week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, or whatever meals your household eats. Then, build a grocery list based on your meal plans.
There are apps that can help. One example is MealBoard, which combines recipe management, meal planning, groceries and pantry management.
Understand use-by dates
You don’t necessarily have to toss food when its use-by date passes, and you definitely don’t have to toss it when its sell-by date passes.
Use-by dates generally indicate when a food’s peak freshness ends, not when spoiling starts.
These dates are determined by the food manufacturer and, with the exception of infant formula, are not regulated by the federal government, according to the USDA.
Sell-by dates tell stores how long to display the product for sale. They are not expiration dates. For a detailed breakdown of all food dates, check out the USDA’s “Food Product Dating” fact sheet.
Use expiration dates
If you’re buying milk, for example, don’t automatically grab the container that’s closest to you. That’s where stores often place the oldest ones to ensure they’re purchased first.
Check the dates on the containers behind it, and buy the one with the latest date. It should last longer.
At home, keep groceries similarly ordered. For example, if you have multiple boxes of cereal, place the newest ones in the back to remind you to use the oldest ones first.
If you have multiple loaves of bread, throw the newest one in the freezer.
Buy in bulk and share
Wholesale shopping can be a great way to save money, but it can lead to food waste in small households.
So, if you want to buy bulk products to save money but don’t need bulk quantities, ask a friend or relative to split perishable purchases with you.
The farther away that food is grown or made, the older it is by the time it reaches your grocery store. So, by the time you take home food that was produced in another country, for example, its shelf life could be significantly shorter than that of foods grown in your country, state or neighborhood.
This makes local farmers markets ideal, but don’t assume produce was grown locally just because it’s sold at a farmers market. In some cases, buyers resell produce they buy at wholesale markets.