Best Ways to Prevent Food Waste and Discarding Food, Live Frugally

Everyone likes to save money on food, and get good quality produce at a reasonable price. But buying in bulk and wasting food that spoils before being used, is like throwing your money away.

Often the food wasted is for bulk buy specials, that you simply could not resist. You spent more, for more food than you can use. The excess is wasted and the extra money you spent buying in bulk is wasted. All of your plans to save money on food is trashed.

A recent study has shown that as much as 40% of food Americans buy is wasted, which can blow a hole in many limited budgets. It is simply waste. Just about everyone sees food wasted in their homes.

Sometimes the food goes bad before you can eat, preserve it or use it in preparing foods that will last a little longer. For example, chicken will last longer if its cooked into a curry stored in the refrigerator than raw chicken. But you need to be aware of what needs to be used and when.

Often it's leftovers that gets wasted, because no one gets around to eating them before they spoil. Sometimes the food is wasted because it is past its 'Use Before' or 'Best Before' date. Often its the remnants of bulk buy specials such as a huge bag or oranges that we bought at outrageously low prices.

You save nothing if the extra cost of buying in bulk is trashed. Sure you can save some of the guilt by adding the waste food to your compost bin or green waste bin, if you have one, but the money is still lost. Wasting food is also irresponsible on a planet where many people go to bed hungry.

This article discusses the things you can do to prevent or reduce food waste when buying, storing and using food at home.

It includes lots of helpful guides and tips for reducing waste to live more frugally and responsibly.

World War II poster
World War II poster. Source: Public Domain

Which Foods are Thrown Away Most Often?

There are 5 common foods that people waste the most, and the estimated average amount of each that goes to waste are listed below.

All of these, except for the cereal products that go stale, could be used in various cooked dishes before becoming unusable. Typically, most people rely on "use-by" labels and "best-before" dates to determine when to throw away food. However many people also smell the food and carefully examine it before using even when it is still within the designated period. 

Health authorities have advised that "best-before" dates are designed to advise consumers more about "quality than safety". They are designed to tell you when a product may start to become stale and begin to lose its texture and flavour rather than that the product becomes dangerous to eat.

"Use-by" dates are mostly used for food that deteriorates quickly, such as meat and dairy products, which may put health at risk if eaten after a certain time period. It also applies to eggs which can make you ill through bacterial contamination.

Would using a visual inspection and/or a sniff test help you to reduce food waste by enabling food to be used after the recommended dates have expired? The reality is that simply smelling food is not a reliable way of telling is a food is safe to eat. The problem is that a smaller quantities of pathogens may build up in the food and be dangerous, even though not detectable by smell. Similarly the natural smell of particular foods, such as spices in prepared foods and dishes can mask the off-odors. Bread will show signs of mold well before it begins to smell and so visual inspections are important as well as the 'sniff test'.

The "use-by" dates, particularly for meat and eggs should be adhered to. The 'sniff' test and visual inspections should always be used to test foods that are getting close to the end of specified period, as an extra precaution. 

In some ways it is probably risky to assume that the "use-by" dates mean that the food is in top condition a few days prior to the expiry date. The state of the food depends on assumptions about refrigeration and storage which may be valid. Everyone know how quickly meat and other perishable goods can go off when out of the refrigerator. The warm-up and deterioration periods can accumulate. For example, taking food out of the refrigerator, leaving it on the bench and then returning it to the refrigerator, perhaps several times may mean it deteriorates well before the 'use-by' date.

Generally 'best-before' dates are less of a worry because it refers to when the manufacturer thinks the product is at its best, not necessarily unsafe. 

Tips for Reducing Waste

Use-by dates are important particularly with meat. Buy the amount you need and use it within a day or so, unless you plan to freeze it. The extra trips mean less waste and wasted money as meat is very expensive and deteriorates quickly even in the refrigerator (dries out).

Consider shopping for small quantities of food, more frequently.This is generally frowned upon for frugal shopping, but it can avoid waste. It requires discipline and sticking to the list, as the more times you shop the most times you will be tempted to buy things you don't really need.

Avoid 'buy-one-get-one-free' or '5 for $10' deals or other multiple item offers for perishable goods. These are designed to make you spend more money and to buy in bulk, supposedly to save money. But any waste means the benefits disintegrate. When you think about it, these offers are designed to encourage you to use more and waste more. Only buy perishable goods in bulk if you have a genuine planned use for them or you can freeze the excess products or preserve them. Genuine savings can occur for items such as rice and pasta that keep well. Plan meals days in advance and only buy enough ingredients for these meals and avoid excess.

Use your Freezer More - Bread, fruit, vegetables and leftovers can all be frozen for later use. Package items in portions that you require for various dishes so that you will only need to thaw enough for the meal you are cooking.

Beware of mixed salads and other food in bags unless all of it is going to be used straight away. It is generally very expensive and once opened it goes off quickly because one of the components does not last as well as the others.

Organize Your Refrigerator - Getting it organised means that you will know what you have and where to find various items. When you buy items and add things that you freeze always label them and store the newer items at the back. This helps you used the oldest foods first.

Know Your Labels and Check Them When Shopping - The supermarket constantly organises items so that the oldest ones, close to the expiry dates for 'Best before' and 'Use by' are at the front. Be smart and choose the newer foods that have a longer life. Always beware of special, because many of them may be items that are about to expire in terms of their 'Best Before' dates. They are not a bargain if you cannot use them immediately. Freezing foods that are right on their expiry dates is not a good idea, especially for meat and dairy products. Many will go off quickly when you thaw them.

Buy Bulk, But do it Wisely and in Moderation - While buying bulk can save you money, any benefit will be lost if food is wasted. Be very careful about perishable foods and always ensure you have a use for all of the food you are buying. A large proportion of bulk food purposes are wasted. If you buy a huge tub of yogurt, much of it may get dumped in the garbage bin. The family may end up being forced to finish it off. Much of it may be a waste because you did not really need it and it leads to gluttony with chocolate, biscuits, cookies and snacks

Always Make a Shopping List and Stick to It - Be aware of all the tricks that the shopping center uses to get you to overspend on things you don't really need.

Learn to Make Use of Overripe and Excess Produce - There are books full of recipes for making use of leftovers and for cooking excess fresh produce. Fruit can be stewed and frozen. Herbs can be dried. Vegetables can be blanched and frozen or cooked and made into packs to be added to stew or sauces. Keep aware of what needs to be used well ahead of the time it has to be trashed. Don't leave it to the last minute. Plan ahead and use excess produce wisely.

Serve Smaller Portions and Cook Smaller Dishes to Avoid Leftovers - Serve large portions means that much of it won't be eaten. Serve smaller portions and encourage send servings for those who want more. Try to only cook what will be eaten at that meal to avoid leftovers. Most leftovers get wasted. Provide bread, salads as side serves and accompanying foods that can fill the gaps if you don't have quite enough.

Freeze Food and Leftovers - Casseroles, stews, curries and pasta sauces can be easily frozen for later meals. Many people plan it this way. If you are going to go to all the trouble of preparing and complicate curry, why not make a double amount and freeze half of it. Buy in bulk, cook in bulk and freeze in bulk. Always remember to take a little extra time to divide the food you are going to freeze in portion sizes appropriate for their use. Don't freeze a huge mass of curry (several meals worth) as a block, because you will have to defrost the lot to use it. Tiny packs or fresh herbs or vegetable can be frozen in portions suitable for the dish they are to be used in.

Learn How to Use Leftovers - Be creative and compile a list of recipes that you know work well. There are lots of wonderful ideas.

Eat What You Have Before Buying More - Use items stored in your freezer or refrigerator before buying similar foods. This may include making substitutes for various ingredients

Store Foods Properly - Most fresh herbs leafy vegetables keep best in Ziploc bags in the refrigerator. Learn the best way of storing various items.

Learn How to Preserve Foods - Preserving and dehydrating appear to be skills many people have forgotten about. Its much easier now with modern equipment. If you buy fresh produce in bulk learn to preserve the goods. Many people love the process which is easy and fulfilling. You need very little equipment and it is relatively inexpensive expensive equipment. You can dry a lot of things in your oven.

Tips for Various Types of Food

Bread - Bread does not last very long, but you can freeze it and revive just-stale bread by baking it for 5-10 minutes in a hot oven. There are many uses for stale bread such as croutons Cut bread into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes, toss with salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake in a moderate oven for about 15-20 minutes. Shaking the pan several times and cook until crisp and golden. Cool, and then store the croutons an airtight container. They will last for about two weeks and are delicious in salads, soups and sprinkled over pasta (crushed). Try making some bread and butter pudding.

Fresh Fruit - Many people buy more than they can eat, especially in season when ripe fruit is very tempting. Fresh fruit freezes well, or it can be cut into cubes and frozen a fruit salad. Most soft fruit such as berries, apricots, kiwi fruit, peaches freeze well in lightly sweetened syrup. Firmer fruit like pears and apples can be simmered in a covered pot, with a lemon juice and water. Add 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and simmer, until just limp. Then cool transfer to a container and freeze. Fruit can also be preserves - its much easier than you think. There are many fabulous fruit desserts that you can make and eat fresh or preserve.

Seasonal Vegetables - Like fruit vegetables can be frozen whole or chopped and frozen. Prepare the vegetables as you would to cook them, but only half cook them. You can boil or steam broccoli, green beans, corn and chard. When half cooked or blanched, quickly rinse in cold water, drain and freeze in plastic bags in usable size portions. You can also make frozen vegetable blocks for soups and other dishes. Cut any excess vegetables into bite-size pieces. Fry some diced onions and a little garlic in a pot. Add the diced vegetables. Begin with he hardest ones first as they take longer to cook. Cover with your favorite broth and simmer until tender. You can even add left over vegetables to the pot. 

Herbs - A lot of fresh herbs are wasted if you buy too much. But most leafy herbs can be blanched by plunging into very hot water, rinsing with cold water, drying with a paper towel and freezing in small plastic bag. You can also make pesto and pasta sauce and freeze it in small portions, ready for adding to various dishes. You can easily dry herbs in your oven.

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World War II poster
World War II poster. Source: Public Domain
Another World War II poster about Food Waste
Another World War II poster about Food Waste. Source: Public Domain
Avoiding food waste can save your money
Avoiding food waste can save your money. Source: Public Domain
Making too much can be a waste as most leftovers are discarded
Making too much can be a waste as most leftovers are discarded. Source: Public Domain
Which foods are wasted more often
Which foods are wasted more often. Source: Public Domain
Food recovery hierarchy
Food recovery hierarchy. Source: Public Domain
Food matters in  a world that is short of food
Food matters in a world that is short of food. Source: Public Domain
Community attitudes to food waste
Community attitudes to food waste. Source: Public Domain
Where is food waste generated?
Where is food waste generated?. Source: Public Domain