Eco-tip: Grocery management to avoid food waste
David Goldstein and Tobie Mitchell, Special to Ventura County Star Published 12:28 p.m. PT April 24, 2020 | Updated 6:04 p.m. PT April 27, 2020
Because of “stay well at home” orders, grocery shopping habits have changed. Grocery orders and produce boxes delivered directly to homes are gaining popularity, and many who shop at grocery stores are buying more during each shopping trip so they do not have to return to stores as often. Some people are picking up prepared boxes of food from the five new “pop-up pantries” coordinated by Food Share and supported by a grant from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
With changes in patterns of bringing food into our homes, this may be a good time to consider methods to reduce the amount of food waste leaving our homes via our curbside garbage carts. Prior to COVID-19, Californians were throwing away nearly 6 million tons of food scraps or food waste each year, representing about 18% of all the material going to landfills, according to the website of the California Department of Resources Recovery and Recycling (CalRecycle).
Not only is food waste a loss of resources, it also creates methane emissions, and “methane emissions resulting from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change,” according to CalRecycle.
“The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook,” by Dana Gunders, offers valuable tips to reduce food waste, and the website Savethefood.com, created by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council, offers an interactive food storage guide enabling users to search for the food of their choice and see optimal storage recommendations, when the item is freshest, and what to do to “revive” food after it passes the point of freshness.
A sensible place to start with food waste prevention is to check the temperature of your refrigerator. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website recommends keeping your refrigerator temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 4 degrees Celsius, and keeping your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, which is -18 degrees Celsius. You should use an appliance thermometer periodically to check correct calibration.
To optimize the effectiveness of your refrigerator, consider tips offered by Gunders in her handbook. She recommends keeping healthy snacks on the top shelf in plain view to encourage good eating habits, placing meat, poultry and fish on trays so they don’t drip on other items, and designating an “eat first” spot for leftovers or foods nearing the end of their freshness.
The bottom shelf of the fridge is the coldest spot in the fridge and should be reserved for meat, poultry, and fish. Because of slightly warmer temperatures, the upper shelves are an appropriate place to store drinks, leftovers, yogurt, eggs, dips and sauces. Produce drawers usually have a lever to adjust the humidity levels. Most vegetables, specifically those prone to wilting, should be placed in the high humidity drawer. Fruits and some vegetables prone to rotting, such as peppers and mushrooms, can be placed in the low humidity drawer. The door of the fridge is the warmest place of all. For that reason, avoid keeping eggs, milk and other dairy items in the door.
Jill Santos, Coordinator of Waste Free VC, which assists food recovery networks, offered additional tips to extend the life of items in a refrigerator: Cut stems of herbs, and put ends in a small cup of water. Use the acid from squeezed citrus to preserve other fruit slices. Do not wash produce before refrigerating, as added moisture speeds decay. Do not tightly wrap cheese in plastic or foil; wax paper or cheese paper are better, and then it can be placed in an unsealed plastic bag. She also has advice for recovering food past its prime. Turn stale bread into savory bread pudding and use wilted veggies in blended soups.
The Ventura County Integrated Waste Management Division, adapting material from Gunders’ book and other sources, produced a brochure titled “Taste it, don’t waste it.” The brochure places 18 fruits and vegetables on a vertical axis, and in four columns along a horizontal axis, are tips for how long each item may be kept fresh in a refrigerator, what preparatory steps should be taken before freezing each item for storage, how each item can best be stored, and how each item can be revived for consumption after it gets to the point where some might consider it ruined.
Examples of the final category include the following: If an avocado becomes too soft, spread it as a substitute for butter or sour cream. Revive limp broccoli by placing it in ice water and placing it in the refrigerator. Use wilted carrots in soups and purees. To eat an overripe cucumber, scoop out the seeds to remove bitterness. Use overripe apples for applesauce and overripe bananas for cooking bread. If you email us a request, we will send you this guide.
David Goldstein and Tobie Mitchell are Environmental Resource Analysts with the Ventura County Public Works Agency. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.