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Produce

We need it, we produce it, but we waste it.

What can you do to reduce food waste in your home?

I remember when I was younger, going to my great-grandmother’s house and the first thing my mom or grandma doing was looking through the fridge and cabinets for expired food. When they would try to throw away a jar of peanut butter or bottle of ketchup, that was a week or two expired, my great-grandmother would throw a fit. She always gave them the same lecture— saying that food did not go bad that fast and it was still perfectly safe to eat and tasted just fine.

Everyone always teased her about not throwing things away, but today we have the exact opposite problem in society. If fruits or vegetables do not look perfect, we throw them out without giving it a second thought.

As many of our great grandparents did, my great grandmother lived through the Great Depression, times were unimaginably tough for them and food was hard to come by.

According to The Atlantic, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that food waste is the largest component of waste in U.S. landfills.

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Every second in America, 3,000 pounds of food is wasted. Infographic from Infographiclist.com

To fix this issue, we must first understand the term “food waste.” This is simply throwing out or not consuming food. So, what can we do to help reduce the waste of food in America? Some simple solutions are to reduce the urge to only want perfect looking fruits and vegetables, breaking the habit of over-purchasing food at the grocery stores, and educating yourself on confusing sell by date labeling.

Picky People wanting Perfect Produce

Grocery stores and consumers can both be held responsible for the picky ways we purchase our produce. Some grocery stores routinely check produce for any oddly shaped or colored fruits and vegetables. If produce does not look exactly as it should, it is tossed straight into the trash. According to Business Insider,  of all the food produced in the U.S., one third of it is thrown out. Grocery stores contribute to a shocking 10 percent of that wasted food.

Some say the new “foodie” fad that has swept across all social media outlets has also played a role in this produce pickiness. Two pieces of squash could taste amazing, but if one is not the perfect bright yellow we associate with a squash then it will be tossed straight to the landfill.

What can we do about it?

First, we must understand not all fruits and vegetables are going to look perfect. If there are some bruises, scratches or different colored spots on the produce, it is usually okay! Also, understanding what the fruit or vegetable feels like when ripe is helpful. Many different blogs and videos online can help you become a more educated consumer. You should check this one out.

Many individuals have started putting their food waste in compost piles instead of taking it to landfills, as a way they can fertilize their yard.  Dairy, meat and bones are not good to put in your compost pile since they can create and grow harmful bacteria. Vegetables, coffee grounds, egg shells and any other kitchen food waste are perfect! Creating a compost pile is an easy way to reduce food waste in landfills and give back to the earth.

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Starting a compost pile with your family can be fun! Click the image to learn more about creating your very own compost pile. Image from Toxipedia

Buying Bulk, a Bang for your Buck

As farming practices have become more efficient, our food has become less expensive. This is great for the American households, but it causes us to buy much more food than we need. Bulk food stores also add to this issue because consumers can get a better price per item if they buy it in bulk.

In a study done by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab as well as the Getulio Vargas Foundation, it was found that the leading cause of food waste in homes is simply buying too much food. When we buy in bulk, it is less likely that we are going to be able to consume all of the food we purchased. But, it is also a very easy habit to fix!

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Food is the most abundant source of waste in most landfills in the United States. Image found on theatlantic.com.

What can we do about it?

Meal planning is one of the easiest ways to ensure you are buying food that will not go to waste, and it is also a great thing to do as a family. When you plan out meals you know exactly what you will need for the week or two weeks until you go back to the grocery store.

Meal planning can be challenging to start if you have never done it before, but Pinterest is a great resource. There are also tons of other tips online to help you plan your family meals and reduce the amount of wasted food in your household.

When you go to the grocery store, make sure you have a list and stick to it! Those fruits and vegetables might be on sale and look delicious, but remember you can’t eat them all!

Confusing Sell by Dates

Today we have food at our fingertips, and for such a small price. This has caused us to become picky consumers. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the leading issues in food waste is confusing date labels. The Food Date Labeling Act, introduced to the House and Senate in May of 2016, was created to lessen the restrictions on donating food that is past its due date.

According to an online article by Still Tasty, use-by, best if used by, best by and best

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Sell by labeling can be confusing for some consumers, ultimately leading to more food waste. Image found on sheetlabels.com.

before are provided by the manufacturer of the product but is not set by the USDA. These dates simply inform the consumer of when the product may not be at the absolute best quality, but are not set for safety reasons. Many consumers get confused about the dates and throw their food out, causing an abundance of food to not be consumed.

 

What can we do about it?

To learn the difference between confusing terms like “sell by date” “best if used by” and “best before,” watch this video. Simply tasting, smelling or looking at a certain products can usually give you a clue as to whether it needs to be thrown away or not.

There are some cities in the United States that have started collecting food from grocery stores that are a day or two after their sell by date and using it to prepare food at soup kitchens for the hungry. Food that is going to be thrown away at a grocery store and just wasted. What better way to reduce waste by preparing a meal for those at a soup kitchen? France has actually banned grocery store from throwing away their expired foods. Instead, they have them put produce in a compost or donate it to food pantries.

So maybe you can be the change in your community and help feed the hungry while reducing the amount of food waste in our landfills.

Doing our part!

Today, the world is becoming more and more concerned about where their food comes from and how their food was produced. In order for us to feed our growing population, we not only have to grow food more efficiently, but we also have to reduce the waste of food.

Although my great grandmother keeping peanut butter in her cabinet for two years was not good, I think we can learn something from the older generation regarding food waste. No matter where we live, there are ways we can reduce the waste of food. We can become more educated on selecting produce, only buying the amount of food we need, and learning more about sell by dates on products. As consumers, we should be responsible with our food and not be so wasteful! We have a growing population and hungry families; we don’t have food to waste.

Three Most Mislabeled Products in your Grocery Store

Today more than ever before we as American consumers are being pushed to purchase products chock-full of food marketer’s favorite and most attractive food labels. We constantly hear how our bodies need the safest foods and how these “safe foods” only come from the purest of sources, where human hands have carefully tended to and manicured the holiest of products in their uncontaminated presence. When in reality, the way to continue feeding a growing and eating population is to use the agricultural advancements of today.

For those with allergies and illnesses, food labels take on a vital role in the grocery store aisles, but labels can also play the part of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We as consumers begin to ask ourselves, “why do food products have labels in the first place, and do labels mean all the un-labeled food in the store is bad for me?” Read to find out what these labels mean and the three most mislabeled products at the grocery store.

Top 3 Mislabeled Everyday Products

1. Drinks. Water, milk, sports drinks, juices and many others fluids are often associated with a food label, but could probably be better left with a simpler packaging. Seeing water that is labeled as GMO Free makes us wonder if the H20 we have been drinking has been genetically modified in previous times.

As for our dairy drinks, the Federal Food & Drug Administration does not allow for milk with hormones to be sold into the market place, so all milk we purchase at the store is hormone free.

Finally, for the ice-cold juice we drink in the mornings. Juices that are marked as being “made with natural fruit juices,” may only contain small percentages of real juice.

The Non-GMO Claim: According to the Non-GMO Project, a GMO is a genetically modified organism. GMOs are organisms that have been altered through genetic engineering to produce a more hearty and weather resistant crop. Products labeled with the Non-GMO Project label indicates the product has been approved by a nonprofit organization offering a third-party non-GMO verification program.

 

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In order for the product to be Non-GMO Project Verified, it must be evaluated for compliance within the organization’s standard, which categorizes factors into three levels of risk. Image provided by Pexels (2018). https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-bottle-and-cans-811108/

2. Produce. The second most mislabeled product in the grocery store is produce. Fruits and vegetables don’t naturally contain gluten or hormones, so why are consumers fixated on finding the vegetable bag with the most amounts of labels? I’ve never known the local produce manager to inject our fresh fruits with preservatives. Most all fruits and vegetables in the produce section could be considered all natural because they involve minimal processing. Ditching the label would still imply an all natural product.

The All-Natural Claim: According to USDA standards, if a product wishes to promote a natural label, the product must not contain artificial flavors, coloring ingredients, chemical preservatives, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and the product and its ingredients must be minimally processed.

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Products marketed as All-Natural may include non-organic and GMO products. Image provided by Pexels (2018). https://www.pexels.com/photo/booth-branding-business-buy-264636/

3. Meats. Like drinks and produce alike, meat doesn’t inherently contain traces of gluten and most meats at the butcher counter come in the most natural form possible so buying high price gluten-free ground beef or the 100% natural chicken is evidently useless.

The Gluten-Free Claim: According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, a product labeled gluten free means the product does not inherently contain gluten or does not contain an ingredient that as a whole is a gluten-containing grain. It does not contain an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and has not been processed to remove gluten but may contain an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten as long as the food product contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

And gluten-free products must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten in the food due to cross-contamination from packaging materials.

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Gluten can’t be tested for at zero percent gluten so there may be a small amount (less than 20 parts per million) of gluten in a product even if it is labeled gluten-free. Image provided by Pexels (2018). https://www.pexels.com/photo/supermarket-refrigerators-811107/

Additional Common Grocery Store Food Labels:

USDA Organic: According to the USDA, a processed or raw agricultural product containing the organic label must be certified organic, and non-organic ingredients allowed from the National List may be used, up to a combined total of 5 percent of the non-organic content. Products must state the name of the certifying agent and may include the USDA organic seal and/or an organic claim and the product label must identify organic ingredients. In other words, products that are labeled USDA organic can contain some non-organic factors.

100% Organic: According to the USDA, for a product to be USDA 100 percent organic, all ingredients must be certified organic, any processing aids or methods must be organic, and the product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel. These products may include the USDA organic seal and/or 100 percent organic claim and these products must identify all organic ingredients.

Traditional grocery stores are filled with the latest and greatest food technologies but current consumers are retreating to former days in hopes to cleanse their bodies of all impurities. The next time you’re buying drinks, meat and produce, I hope you’ll take a closer look at the packaging.

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