On garbage day, does your trash look like a tossed salad? If it does, you’re not alone.
Recent estimates say the average Canadian household throws out between $1,000 and $1,500 worth of food each year. That’s equal to tossing a bag of groceries for every four or five bags purchased.
CBC Marketplace spent months investigating the food thrown out by supermarkets. Marketplace staff found dozens of bins full of food behind two Toronto-area Walmart locations — just part of the global food waste problem.
Marketplace talked to a food scientist and scoured household food waste studies for ideas about how to save money and reduce the amount of food wasted at home.
Some food is OK past ‘best before’
Best-before dates aren’t based in science, they’re based on guesswork, says Keith Warriner, a food scientist and professor at University of Guelph.
Warriner divides food into three categories: those foods that should never be eaten past the best-before date, “caution” foods that are usually OK to eat after a best-before date if they are stored under good conditions and “safe” foods that are fine to eat past the best-before date.
Among foods to avoid eating past the best-before date: creamy cakes and deli meats.
Some of the medium-risk foods Warriner says can be stretched beyond their stated dates are things that may seem counterintuitive.
Some foods such as dairy products and eggs, if kept cold, will last beyond the printed date, says Warriner. Yogurt, eggs and hard cheeses can be eaten past the date printed on their packages, as long as they are stored in the right conditions — for example, at the right temperature.
“As long as [yogurt is] kept refrigerated, it should be fine,” he says. “You can look at the best-before date as a guide, but certainly it would be safe to eat after that time.”
Low-risk foods can be used beyond the best-before date with no significant risk. These include foods that are high in acid and low in fat. It also includes dry goods with low moisture content.
Syrups, jams, honey, pasta and cake mixes are all generally safe to eat even if that best-before date has passed, according to Warriner.
Choose food you’ll use
A recent study that dug through the garbage, recycling and green bins of residents in Guelph, Ont., found most of the food kicked to the curb was produce.
In the households studied, produce made up almost 70 per cent of total food waste. More than 50 per cent of that waste was avoidable: it was actual fruit and vegetables, not banana peels and avocado pits.
Breads and cereals were the second most common type of food thrown out. Grains accounted for 16 per cent of total food waste, and almost all of that was avoidable.
Don’t buy too much
While consumers are the biggest food wasters, a recent study from Value Chain Management International says some of that waste can be attributed to regular retail store practices that affect buying habits.
Recognizing that “buy one, get one” deals cause waste, some retailers in Britain have started offering “buy one, get one free later” promotions, the study found.
Bulk buys are also a potential money waster.
Avoiding retailers that sell oversized quantities is key for smaller families who won’t finish a bulk pack, he says.
Buyers should be aware that what seems like a saving could end up in the trash at the end of the week, and therefore is a waste of money.
“The classic story is where you buy lots of fresh produce that’s on sale, put it into the refrigerator, and leave it for a week and, when you go back, it’s obviously all spoiled,” says Warriner.
Use the freezer wisely
Using the freezer is a good way to keep some foods if they aren’t going to be eaten within a few days, says Warriner.
Meat and dairy can be frozen and used later, as long as they are frozen well before their best-before date.
Breads are another category of foods to put in the freezer before they reach their date. Freezing may cause bread to lose some of its moisture, but as long as it’s not in the deep freeze too long it will work as toast.
Vegetables should be blanched in boiling water for 10 seconds before they are frozen, says Warriner.
And he urges shoppers to make sure food is cycled through the freezer.
“Always have a sort of rotation in the freezer. Don’t just put it in the freezer and forget about it.”