Q: I buy fresh fruits and vegetables every time I go to the grocery store, but it seems like a lot of produce ends up in the trash, because I didn’t have time to eat them or forgot they were in the fridge. Do you have any tips on how I can avoid this?
A: You are not alone. Americans nationwide throw away about 80 billion pounds of food in a typical year, researchers have found.
For example, about 30% of the food produced in the United States is wasted each year, and most of it occurs at the consumer level. Food waste accounts for 15% of all solid waste in the United States and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
And a new report released in March by the United Nations Environment Program found that of all food wasted in homes, restaurants and shops, 17% was thrown away. The UNEP 2021 Food Waste Index report also found that 8% –10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to food that is not consumed.
In addition, the report found that households waste 11% of their food at the consumption stage of the supply chain, while food service and retail outlets waste 5% and 2%, respectively.
But there are ways to reduce that food waste, says Alisha Barton, a family and consumer science educator at Ohio State University Extension. One way is to re-evaluate how you store food in your refrigerator. Doing so helps not only the environment but your wallet as well, he said.
“In the United States, the average person throws away 238 pounds of food per year or about 21% of the food they buy,” wrote Barton in Figuring Out Your Fridge, a blog posted on Live Healthy Live Well.
Site, which can be found on livehealthyosu.com, is a free resource offering science-based consumer insights and information. It is written by OSU Extension educators and specialists in family and consumer science concerned with health and wellness. The OSU Extension is an extension of the Ohio State University School of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
“This wasted food costs consumers an average of about $ 1,800 per year,” he said. “Fresh fruit and vegetables are the biggest contributors to this loss.”
Here are some tips that Barton suggests to help you optimize your fridge and fresh food storage:
Take time each week to clean and record your fridge and freezer. This task can be completed in 30 minutes. Take time to dispose of expired food and food scraps while wiping up spills and cleaning surfaces. When food is returned to the refrigerator, note what needs to be used and plan accordingly.
Use this cleaning time to check the temperature of your fridge and freezer. Your refrigerator must be at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The freezer temperature should be set at 0 degrees. Checking this temperature regularly can help ensure your food stays fresh for longer.
Use a glass jar. Consider using recycled glass or glass jars for food storage. It’s great for keeping food fresh and it’s easy to see what’s inside. The glass jars are easy to clean and their airtight seals keep food fresh. To reuse a jar, simply wash the jar and remove the label.
Throw in the towels. Wrapping fresh broccoli or cauliflower in a slightly damp towel will keep it fresh. Storing spinach or lettuce in a glass container with a dry towel on top will help keep it fresh and fresh.
Don’t over shop. You may be excited about a good deal, but if you don’t have plans to use up a large number of items to sell, those good deals can be a waste of food. Try to remember how many items you will use, and avoid buying more than you need.
Cleaning and keeping track of what’s in your fridge will help avoid over-buying, he says.
“You know your fridge and your habits more than anyone else,” wrote Barton. “Consider your habits and the foods you enjoy when you find a system that works for you.”
Chow Line is a service of the Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research agencies, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Center for Agricultural Research and Development. Send an inquiry to Chow Line author Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or [email protected].