Prevent Food Waste at Home
Food is too important to throw in the garbage. In total, Americans throw away enough to feed more than the one billion hungry people worldwide. By making small shifts in how we shop, prepare and store food, we can waste less, save money and conserve the valuable resources associated with food production. If you would like to learn more about how your household can prevent food waste, contact a waste prevention and recycling specialist by email or call 503-846-3605.
Take action to prevent food waste by learning how much food (and money) your family is throwing away. Measure how much food your family is throwing away and make it easier to know when you're making progress. You might be surprised by how much good food can be saved. Educate your family and take action by following these simple steps.
To learn how much food your household wastes, measure all of the food you discard over one to two weeks. Try using a large measuring cup or a small bucket that you know the volume of — is it 1/4 full, half full or more.
Add up your waste after meals and make a chart. Post it where the whole family can see.
Try one of the steps listed below. They are in no specific order. Just try the one easiest for you and go from there. For helpful tips and strategies to store smart, shop smart and save smart, see below.
- Discover if the strategy works for your household. Collect and measure your wasted food for an additional week or two and compare it to how much was measured before.
Steps to waste less food
Smart storage — keep fruits and vegetables fresh
Keep fruits and vegetables fresh. Help your food stay fresher, taste better and last longer by storing it in the right place.
- Learn which fruits and vegetables stay fresh longer inside or outside the refrigerator.
- Freeze food you think might spoil soon and you won't be able to eat in time.
- Consider using storage bags or containers to help extend the life of your produce.
- Store leftovers and produce in clear containers to easily identify the contents.
- Make produce that’s past its prime into soups, sauces, pies or smoothies.
- Separate very ripe fruit from fruit that isn’t as ripe. Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, making other produce spoil faster.
- Store bananas, apples and tomatoes separately from each other. Store fruits and vegetables in different bins. Wash berries just before eating to prevent mold.
- If you like your fruit at room temperature, take what you’ll eat for the day out of the fridge in the morning.
Smart shopping — buy what you need
Make a list with meals in mind and buy no more than what you expect to use. You will be more likely to use it up and keep it fresh.
- Make your shopping list based on pre-planned meals you will eat at home and stick to it. Don't forget to subtract meals you will eat out.
- Check your fridge and cupboards before you to go the grocery store or market to avoid buying food you already have.
- Include quantities on your shopping list to make sure you buy just what you need.
- Shop on a full stomach.
- Choose loose fruit and vegetables over pre‐packaged food to better control the quantity you need and ensure fresher ingredients.
- Shop the bulk section of the grocery store so you can get just the quantity you need.
- Buy fresh ingredients in smaller quantities.
- Avoid marketing gimmicks that encourage you to buy more than you need. If you get 10 items for $10 and only eat five before they spoil, you've wasted the other five items and $5.
Smart prep — prepare now and eat later
Make it easier to prepare meals later in the week and save time, effort and money.
- When you get home from the grocery store or market, wash, dry and chop or prepare items. Then place your fresh food items in clear storage containers — so you can see them easily — for snacks and easy cooking.
- Freeze food that you know you won’t be able to eat in time such as bread, sliced fruit or meat.
- Cut in half the time you spend preparing food each week by cooking several entire meals ahead of time. Then store them in the refrigerator or freezer for later in the week.
- Prepare and cook perishable items such as meat, then freeze them for use throughout the month. For example, bake and freeze chicken breasts or cook and freeze taco meat.
- Keep a running list of meals that your household enjoys. That way, you can easily choose a meal to prepare and avoid ones they don't like as much.
Smart saving — eat what you buy
Use up leftovers and the ingredients you have before buying more. You'll waste less, save more and may even find a new favorite dish.
- Move food that’s likely to spoil soon to the front of the shelf or a designated “eat now” area each week.
- Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use‐by”, “best‐by” and expiration dates. You can rely on your own sight and smell over food dates in most cases.
- Casseroles, frittatas, soups and smoothies are great ways to use leftovers and extra ingredients.
- Make a list each week of what needs to be used up and plan upcoming meals around it.
- A-Z Food Storage Guide
- Preserve and store food with Oregon State University (OSU) Extension
- Recipes and helpful tips from the OSU Extension Food Heroes including:
- Cooking basics
- Cooking with kids
- Ingredient substitutions
- Menu and meal planning
- Portion sizes
- Storing foods
- And much more
- "Food Product Dating," United States Department of Agriculture, Aug 2013.
- "Reducing Food Loss and Waste," World Resources Institute, Jun 2013.
- "Your Scraps Add Up: Reducing food waste can save money and resources," National Resource Defense Council, Mar 2013.
- "Leftovers: Tasty or Trash?" The Wall Street Journal, Mar 2012.
- "A look at the $175 in your compost," Grist, Jan 2012.
- "Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill," Nation Resource Defense Council Issue Paper, Aug 2012.
- "Take the mystery out of dairy shelf life," The Oregonian, Jan 2011.
- "From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can," The New York Times, Nov 2010.
- "How to Waste Less Food, and Save Money, to Boot!" CBS News, Nov 2010.
Special thank you to the West Coast Climate & Materials Management Forum at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for strategies to reduce household food waste.