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Reduce Food Waste in America – Why You Need a Refrigerator Conscience

By David Bakke

throw away less foodI’ll get right to the point. I hate waste. I absolutely despise it. Specifically, food waste. So many of us do our best each week to save as much as we can at the grocery store, yet when it comes to what we actually do with this food once we buy it, we drop the ball completely. That, my friends, is why we should all have a “refrigerator conscience.”

What is a “Refrigerator Conscience?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, a refrigerator conscience is something somewhere in your mind that actually is cognizant and aware of the items in your refrigerator (and your pantry for that matter). This conscience is then put into practice by eliminating as much food waste as possible, if not eliminating it completely.

The Facts

I recently did a quick search on the internet and uncovered the following statistics:

  • Americans waste approximately 100 billion pounds of food each year.
  • This equates to roughly 14% of food purchased in an average household.
  • This breaks down to approximately $500 of wasted food on an annual basis per household.
  • 15% of this waste comes from food unopened and still within its expiration date.
  • On a daily basis, we throw away about 1.5 pounds of food.
  • Additionally, this discarded food translates into increased pollution through increased methane production.

What to do?

It’s simple, really. So many of us out there seem to look into our refrigerators as though they are some sort of dark, mysterious caverns that we venture into once every twenty years or so. Well, somebody is responsible for putting all that food in there and somebody should be responsible for how it gets taken out.

Have a Plan

On the front end, you need to have a plan regarding fresh food when you go to the grocery store. Pantry items we can get to in a minute. This plan needs to have some sort of correlation with what you’ll be cooking for the week. Do you need to know exactly what you’ll cook each day of the week? Well, if you can, great, but it’s not a necessity. Personally, I would envision how many times you plan on cooking fresh each week. I would guess that a good number for this would be four or maybe five times. Having established that, don’t buy enough fresh veggies for seven fresh meals. They won’t last.

Wake Up

Yes, I think we could all wake up a little when it comes to our refrigerators. Obviously, when something is spoiled in there, we recognize it and throw it away. Well, wouldn’t it be grand if we could recognize these items a few days before they spoiled and do something about it? Guess what, we can. Set out some extra fruit for the kids (or whoever) or eat it yourself as you see it getting to that point. Prepare an extra large tossed salad if you see you’ve bought too many veggies for the week. Put simply, wake up and do something about this food before it actually spoils.

The Pantry

If you shop frugally like I do, I am sure you’re familiar with the concept of stocking up. If you see canned veggies are on sale and you use a lot of them, well, pick up some extras to capitalize on your savings. This is a great idea. However, use your judgment. Stocking up is great, but let’s not overdo it. I used to be very guilty of this. I probably still am to a point, but now, I also make it part of my routine to “empty out” from time to time. That is, don’t buy anything for your pantry until you’ve gone through most of what’s in there. This will prevent you from having food beyond its expiration date in there.

Leftovers

Finally, let’s look at the wonderful world of leftovers. Leftovers need to be managed as much as the fresh food you buy on a weekly basis. If you cook a fresh meal four nights in a row and you have leftovers, chances are these leftovers will not all get eaten before they spoil. Therefore, space out your fresh cooking accordingly. Also, get a little creative. Basically, leftovers from just about any “meat and potatoes” dish can be mixed together with a little cheese, put in a flour tortilla, and you have yourself some wraps for supper. Leftovers do not have to be served exactly as they were originally cooked.

Make It Happen

Most of us spend so much time and energy saving all the money we can when we make our weekly trip to the grocery store. Then, it seems, it all goes by the wayside once we load it all into the fridge. By implementing a few simple steps and concepts into our daily lives, we can have an immediate impact on how much food we throw away. Am I saying that we should never ever throw something away? Should we eat food that could possibly be spoiled? The answers are “no” and “no.” But with a little forethought, we can get away from even having to ask these questions.

(photo credit: magnetbox)

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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Comments

  • http://ozarkscrescentmural.blogspot.com/ Victoria – Ozarks Crescent Mural/My Freelance Road Trip

    I hate throwing away food too! I was homeless and before I learned there were such places as soup kitchens, I experienced hunger like never before. I learned such an appreciation for food and others’ generosity. I was never one to waste food before, but ever since then I would never consider such a thing.

    • David Bakke

      Victoria:

      From your experience, of course you know the true value of food.

      I wish more people had this perspective.

  • http://hubpages.com/_readkindregards/profile/Kind+Regards Victoria – Ozarks Crescent Mural/My Freelance Road Trip

    Oh, and I forgot to post this link that Frugal Babe posted for Stone Soup’s free ecookbook that has 65 5-ingredient 10-minute recipes. It’s hard to waste food when you’re only dealing with 5 ingredients!

    http://thestonesoup.com/blog/2010/06/a-free-e-cookbook/

    • David Bakke

      Victoria:

      Great link–I’m always looking for fast and easy recipes.

      Thanks for sharing…

  • Christine

    Good article David! I too hate to waste food and take some pains not to. I write up a menu every Sunday for the week so I know exactly what to buy at the store and always buy fresh produce. Milk can be placed in the freezer if you think you’re not going to be using it up in a few days, just crack the cap to allow for expansion. If you don’t drink it you can use it for custards, puddings, stratas,sauces, etc.. In the event that I don’t use up some of the food in the fridge I throw it in the composter and then there’s no guilt. Anything organic is good, use peelings and parts you chop off, say broccoli, end pieces, stems, etc., banana peels, orange peels, lemons peels, on and on. Keep a container on the counter to save trips to the compost. You don’t have to have a garden, if you have shrubs or trees or even house plants you can compost. Don’t buy one, make it yourself, it’s easy! Look online.

    • David/moneycrashers

      Christine–

      That’s some great quality commentary!

      I never knew you could freeze milk.

      And I’ll be looking into composting as well!

      • Christine

        Thanks David. You’re a man after my own heart!

        • David/moneycrashers

          Any time Christine!

          I appreciate your kind words and hope to hear more from you in the future.

          Seems like we have similar outlooks on a lot of things…

  • rose

    Can I please have your sources (links/url) for the following information:

    * Americans waste approximately 100 billion pounds of food each year.
    * This equates to roughly 14% of food purchased in an average household.
    * This breaks down to approximately $500 of wasted food on an annual basis per household.
    * 15% of this waste comes from food unopened and still within its expiration date.
    * On a daily basis, we throw away about 1.5 pounds of food.

    I need them for a school paper. :)

    Thank you very much!

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