How to reduce food waste

Reduce food waste with these tips and resources.

Utilizing leftovers can have a big impact on your food budget and also on food waste. Reducing the amount of food we waste by eating leftovers is an easy way to make an impact. You may find it alarming that about 40 percent of the food we eat ends up in the trash! It is estimated that 20 percent of American meals are eaten in the car. With our on-the-go lifestyles, it is very important to think about how our lifestyles can impact our food decisions, and what we can do differently to lessen food waste.

The International Food Information Council Foundation conducted a survey in 2016 touching on sustainability and the following are the top seven actions that respondents said contribute most to food waste (aside from those that don’t think they contribute to food waste):

  • Forgeting about perishable food until it’s too late
  • Purchasing too much fresh/perishable food
  • Cooking big meals and throwing some of it away
  • Individuals not eating everything put on their plate
  • Not consuming or freezing leftovers in a timely manner
  • Not liking leftovers
  • Not always knowing how to prepare foods that they buy

Because we waste so much food, what can we do to curtail the waste? According to the above survey, engaging in the following actions is what most of us can do: 

  • Take leftovers home from restaurants
  • Use leftovers for cooking
  • Plan meals
  • Make shopping lists
  • Use or freeze leftovers in a timely manner
  • Buy or order smaller portions
  • Buy smaller quantities

Using leftovers is the second most common action to reduce food waste. Make sure you are using them in a timely manner though. The Food Keeper Guide is an excellent resource on storage advice to maintain the freshness and quality of foods. There is also an app for smart phones which is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This was created as part of an effort to reduce food waste called the Food Waste Challenge. There are many helpful guides here for your personal use, but also for those in the food industry.

Gleaning is a hot topic that is becoming more commonplace, but standards must be followed otherwise people can become sick. The USDA has developed standards for gleaning that are available in a toolkit. While this may not apply to every day food waste for individuals, it contains standards that are helpful for schools, restaurants, and others in the food service industry so that unused food can be donated in a safe way. Michigan State University Extension supports the efforts of reducing food waste and following food safety practices.


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