This article is part of a four-part series on buying, storing, preserving and composting foods to prevent waste.
In the previous article I discussed the massive impact food waste has on global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the UN, if food loss and waste were its own country it would rank third, behind the US and China, in global greenhouse gas emissions. The toll on the environment from food waste is staggering, but the upside is that in developed countries like the US, most waste occurs at the consumer level meaning we can actually do something about it.
When food is thrown out instead of eaten, all the energy that went into production, transportation, packaging and storage are lost with it. This cost is particularly high for foods that must stay refrigerated throughout their lifecycle. You can reduce this environmental impact by choosing foods that are grown and produced closer to home, shortening the supply chain and the associated costs.
You can also reduce food waste through proper storage to extend its life, so it gets eaten instead of tossed. Here are some storage tips to keep in mind:
Clean your fridge. Start by making sure your refrigerator is organized and at the proper temperature, between 39o to 41o F is ideal. An overcrowded fridge prevents airflow and can make your fridge too warm which accelerates spoilage. It is easy to to lose track of things in a disorganized fridge only to find them after they’ve already gone bad. Consider cleaning the coils on the back of your fridge to make it run more efficiently, too.
Store food correctly. Some foods are best left out to ripen or retain their flavor, such as tomatoes and stone fruits. However, once they are soft and ripe it may be necessary to move them into the fridge if you can’t finish them right away. Bread should go directly to the freezer. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
Reuse Plastic. Plastic bags are a scourge on the world, but there is a reason they are ubiquitous in produce aisles – they are great at keeping food fresh. My solution to this conflict is to re-use a handful of plastic produce bags and reuse them as often as possible. A small jar with a handful of chopsticks in it makes a nice drying rack for your washed bags out of things you might already have in the house.
Mieko Diener is a dietetic intern with a master’s degree in nutritional science from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.