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Don't toss your bruised bananas: How to minimize food waste through smart storage

Posted at 4:30 AM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-28 08:12:00-04

When Jenny Lohmann opens her fridge, the numbers on some of its contents might make the average Ohioan blanch. There's cottage cheese purchased before May 9, for one, alongside slightly wilted lettuce and a half-cantaloupe covered in plastic. Some of her goods, like the cheese, have outlived their sell-by date.

"I've never opened it," she explained. "No air has gone in, which means bacteria can't grow and it's pasteurized. As long as you're properly storing these food items that are perishable, it's not a safety issue -- it's basically quality."

Sound wild? The Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District backs her up. Date labels on food aren't necessarily hard-and-fast instructions for when to consume a product.

"With the exception of infant formula, product dating is set by manufacturers to indicate the latest date for peak quality, not safety," a pamphlet from the organization reads. "Even if the date expires, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if stored and handled together."

Lohmann, with her careful storage and food strategizing, is among a growing number of Americans dedicated to minimizing food waste, which occurs when consumable products go bad or are thrown away instead of being eaten.

About 40 percent of all food grown in the United States goes to waste between the farm and the fork, according to some estimates, whether it is purchased and thrown away or discarded before reaching consumers because it is too "ugly." 

People like Lohmann, who develop personal systems for eating perishable food fast and preserving longer-lasting items for as long as possible, strive to "buy only what we need and eat what we buy," she said.

The recycling and solid waste district hopes more in the area will choose to be like her, whether it's by creatively using food scraps, minimizing their impulse buys at the grocery story or thinking strategically about food storage. 

Simple tricks such as storing the most perishable items in lower refrigerator shelves -- lower and farther from the door is colder -- keeping track of which items are closest to spoiling and storing fruits away from one another -- so the emission of the gas ethylene, which makes fruit ripen and rot, has less severe effects -- can make a big difference.

She added that wasting food is more than just wasting your money. It is also damaging to the environment. "For each tomato it takes 3.3 gallons of water to grow, so when we waste the tomato we're wasting that water, the fertilizer, the energy, the labor, the transportation, the refrigeration," she said.

Anyone interested in learning more about responsible food storage and consumption can do so at the recycling and solid waste district's website.