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Food Waste Prevention: the Grocery Store

grocery store produce guy montagFood waste is a significant problem. Americans throw away approximately $165 billion worth of food each year, according to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The good news is that we can implement changes that can make a big difference.

During the month of September, the At Your Service blog will feature tips to prevent food waste. This week, we’ll talk about ways you can prevent food waste at the grocery store. In the upcoming weeks we’ll also discuss food storage, using leftovers, and composting.

When most Seattle residents think of food waste, they think of composting. While composting food scraps is fantastic (and required in Seattle), it’s even better to eat the food we purchase than to compost it. Why? When you throw away an apple, you’re also throwing away all of the water, energy, and other resources used to grow that apple and get it to your plate! Before we can eat our food, we (usually) have to buy it. So, the very first step in food waste prevention is to plan out your grocery list.

Plan Ahead

The quote “failing to plan is planning to fail” is widely attributed to Alan Lakein, and well, we think Lakein has a good point. Taking the time to thoughtfully plan out your grocery list will help you avoid excessive and impulse buying. Bulk or sale items may be enticing, but if you don’t end up using all of the food you purchase, then you’re wasting both food and money. Having a predetermined grocery list and sticking to it will save time, money, and food waste by making sure you are only buying as many groceries as you need and plan to use. There are even apps that will help you make and manage your grocery list, if you don’t want to go the traditional pen and paper route.

Check Your Kitchen

Before you leave for the store, make sure you know what you already have in your cupboards, fridge, and pantry. Don’t accidentally buy another carton of eggs or more bananas if you already have those items. If you don’t want to take the time for a thorough look through, snap a picture of your fridge or pantry so you can easily double-check when you’re at the store.

Equipped with your carefully thought out grocery list, you’re ready to conquer the grocery store… right? Not so fast. Remember to give “ugly” produce a chance.

The Illusion of Produce Perfection

Picture your local grocery store’s produce section. Did an image of perfectly stacked, shiny, colorful produce come to mind? We bet it looked similar to the picture at the top of this blog post. Attractiveness sells, which is why an estimated 6 billion pounds of “ugly” produce is wasted every year. But don’t fall for the illusion of perfection. When it comes to produce, just like books and people, it’s what is on the inside that counts. A funny shaped potato, orange, or carrot is just as delicious and nutritious as its “perfect” counterpart. Buying “ugly” produce will save them from being tossed into the landfill for merely superficial reasons. Learn from “Wonky” Mr. Potato Head — all shapes and sizes are great! An added bonus is that some grocery stores will even sell “imperfect” produce at a discounted price.

Now that you’ve efficiently planned and bought your groceries, how do you keep them fresh so you have more time to use them? Stay tuned for our fruit and vegetable storage tips next week. Can’t wait? Check out our food waste prevention resources here.

Photo courtesy of Guy Montag via flickr.