Consumer Reports: The ways to prevent throwing out your food
The avocado has turned brown, the cilantro is slimy and the tomato became watery mush days ago. So much for the guacamole you planned to make — a week ago (or was it two?).
All of the ingredients go into the garbage. Multiply that by a whole country's worth of good food intentions gone bad, and the ultimate result is that 40 percent of the food produced in the United States ends up in the trash.
It's not just your unmade menus that are to blame. Waste occurs all along the food chain — from farms to processors, from grocery stores to restaurants, according to Consumer Reports. But the single largest source of food waste is individuals in the home.
That kind of wastefulness could be costing you a lot. A family of four loses $1,500 each year on the food it throws away. But the damage is global when you take into account how much water, energy and labor it takes to grow, package and transport the food that never gets eaten. What's more, food that has been tossed is the biggest component of landfills, and as it decomposes, it produces the greenhouse gas methane.
Don't underestimate how much you can do in your own home to reduce food waste. Consumer Reports offers these tips from Dana Gunders, author of the book "Waste Free Kitchen Handbook" and of "Wasted," a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that sparked attention to the crisis in America's kitchens.
Whittle your waste
• Know yourself. Track what you throw out and why, then adjust your shopping and cooking habits accordingly.
• Shop with a list. Be sure you've planned on when you'll make those meals. "People are aspirational at the store," Gunders says. "But think, when will you have time to cook what you buy?"
• Use every last bit. When trimming veggies, remove just the very ends or the stem. Put greens such as beet greens in salads, or cook them just as you would collard and other greens. Make stock out of vegetable scraps and bits and pieces of meat or poultry.
• Plan a catch-up meal. Pick one night a week when you'll eat the food that's already in your fridge. Place whatever needs to be eaten first in the front to keep it top of mind.
• Mix it up. Don't be afraid to experiment with eclectic ingredients. Got an open jar of salsa and some extra chicken broth? Gunders recently turned that combo into the base for a tortilla soup.
• Plan your parties. Most partygoers won't eat a full portion of every dish, so when you entertain, cook for just three-fourths the number of guests you expect. Keep storage containers on hand so that you can send any leftovers home with your friends.
• Share the bounty. Home gardeners who can't eat everything that they grow can find a food pantry eager to accept their garden-fresh extra produce at ampleharvest.org.
To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org.
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