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Top Tips for Preventing Food Waste

How much food do you throw out?

The average American throws away over 200 pounds of food every year.[1] That adds up to over $40 billion worth of household food waste annually.

But money isn’t the only thing we’re wasting when we toss out a mushy apple or last night’s spaghetti. We’re also throwing out all the water, energy, and other resources that were used to grow that apple, make that spaghetti, and get them to your plate.


Luckily, there are things we can do to prevent food waste. Check out a few of our favorite tips below, and visit Seattle Public Utilities’ Prevent Food Waste page for more ideas.


Store Smarter

leave-bananas-aloneStoring certain foods the right way can make them last longer.

  • Store bananas away from other produce (they give off a lot of ethylene gas and make other fruits ripen faster than they would on their own).
  • Keep apples in the fridge (they keep ripening even after they’re picked, so keeping them in the fridge will preserve them for longer).
  • Store lettuce and other leafy greens in a sealed container lined with a damp towel. To liven up greens that have gone limp, immerse them in ice water for 30 minutes.

For many more great food storage tips, visit SPU’s Fruit & Vegetable Storage Guide.


Give those Leftovers some Love

leftovers-love-turkey-sandwichEating leftovers doesn’t have to mean heating up last night’s meat loaf. Make those leftovers delicious the second time around, or use up an abundance of fruits and vegetables from your garden, with a quick visit to one of the sites listed below. They’re chock full of recipes that will put your leftovers to good use.


Know Your Food Date Facts

tin-cans-with-expiration-dates-do-homeworkHere’s something that might surprise you: almost none of the date labels on food products—sell-by, best-by, use-by—indicate the safety of food[2]. In fact, they’re just suggestions by the manufacturer for when they believe the food is at its freshest and tastiest, not when it will become unsafe to eat.

Get to know your food date terms and you’ll avoid throwing away perfectly good, edible food. Here’s what the USDA has to say about this:

Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always pertain to home storage and use after purchase. “Use-by” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly…If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date. If product has a “sell-by” date or no date, cook or freeze the product according to the times on the chart below.

Visit the USDA website for more information on food product dating.


Buy What You Need

grocery-shopping-make-a-listBefore you go to the grocery store, take an inventory of your refrigerator and cupboards to find out what you need to buy, then make a list. According to the National Resource Defense Council, research has shown that shoppers who make grocery lists – and stick to them – have lower grocery bills and make fewer shopping trips. They’re also less susceptible to impulse buys.


 And Finally, Don’t Forget to Compost!

February 17, 2010- Portland, OR- Green yard debris roll carts and a new compost pail for the launch of the City of Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability's food scrap collection program for residents.Make sure the food waste you do generate ends up in your household’s Food & Yard Waste bin so it can be composted and returned to the earth.


[1] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Global Food Losses and Food Waste.
[2] Natural Resources Defense Council, The Dating Game” How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America.