Prevent food waste in the kitchen

By Julie Van Rosendaal on March 21, 2013
In Canada, it’s estimated that 40 percent of our food goes to waste; some during production and distribution, but most from the kitchen. That wasted food translates to about $27 billion annually, never mind the environmental impact of growing or producing, transporting and storing all that unconsumed food.

Why do we toss so much?

The biggest factors are aesthetics (we like our fruit unblemished), best-before dates (many of us are too quick to toss those half-eaten yogurt containers), bulk buying habits and impulse shopping. And once we get our groceries home, we stash them away in deep freezers and walkin pantries, making it difficult to keep tabs on what we have in stock. We also often make mealtime decisions based on what we’re in the mood for or what’s convenient, rather than what we already have in our pantries that needs to be cooked. So the waste cycle continues.

Here are three recipes that use up ingredients that often get tossed, as well as more ways to prevent food waste.

Food for thought

Health Canada advises setting your refrigerator at 4°C (40°F) or lower, and your freezer at -18°C (0°F) or lower. Between 4°C and 60°C is known as the temperature danger zone, where bacteria can grow quickly. Here are a few more tips on proper food storage to help you avoid tossing your groceries before they spoil.

Meats and proteins: Store raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood in separate containers and on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator so raw juices won’t drip onto other food, or in the freezer. Never leave uncooked meats unrefrigerated for longer than two hours.

Cream: Freeze and use later in muffin, quick bread or pancake batter.

Lettuce and greens: Keep them from going slimy by tucking a paper towel into the bag or storage bin; moisture makes lettuce, spinach and other greens deteriorate quickly. When they become too limp to use in a salad, leafy greens can still be added to soup; tear or chop and treat them like hardier greens, like spinach and kale, tossing them in at the end just until they wilt.

Vegetables: Store cut fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. Veggies that are starting to wrinkle and slump are still fine for cooking; use them in soups and stews. If you know you’re running out of time, wash, peel and chop, then freeze in zip-top bags to use in cooked dishes down the road.

Bread: Slice and freeze it before it goes stale, or cube days-old bread, drizzle with oil and toast in the oven to make crunchy croutons. Or blitz in the food processor to make breadcrumbs, which can be stashed in the freezer to add to meatloaf and other dishes.

Leftovers: Cool leftovers quickly by placing them in shallow containers. Refrigerate as soon as possible or within two hours in glass or see-through containers so they’re more likely to be recognized and used; or divvy the last of a meal into single-serving containers to freeze and grab to go for lunch at work or school. Rather than simply reheating yesterday’s dinner, think of creative ways to transform it into something new. Leftover roasted meat and rice can become fried rice, or add stock to a smaller quantity of stew or curry to turn it into soup. Never leave leftovers out on the counter for longer than two hours. After two hours at room temperature, levels of bacteria in your food can become dangerous.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

By Julie Van Rosendaal | March 21, 2013

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