Food Waste

Did you know that one third of all of the food produced globally is never consumed? In Canada, that’s about 300 million meals that end up in the landfill, yet every month, 850,000 Canadians turn to food banks for assistance. All of this food waste also takes up unnecessary space in the landfill and creates greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention the resources including water and energy that are wasted, to grow, ship, package and produce it. We all have a role to play in reducing food waste, and it’s easy.

Follow these tips to reduce food waste:

Make a plan

Plan your meals and only buy what you need:

  • Start by checking what you already have at home, especially fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, cheese and milk.
  • Once you know what food you already have, decide what meals you want to make for the next few days - don’t try to plan a whole week because plans often change throughout the week. Try to plan meals that use the ingredients you already have. Use the Internet or cookbooks to search for recipes that use the ingredients you already have.
  • Make a list of the items you need and stick to it when shopping. Keep a list through the week of items that you run out of.
  • Remember, some foods lose freshness sooner than others, so plan around what needs to be eaten first.

There are many meal planning tools available online. Spend some time looking for a tool that works for you and it will help to reduce your food waste and make your next trip to the grocery store a little easier!

Have trouble knowing how much food to buy? Check out Metro Vancouver's Love Food Hate Waste's Portion Planner for tips. 

Learn to love leftovers

If you plan well, you shouldn’t have a lot of leftovers (unless of course you planned for leftovers!).

If you do have leftovers, separate them into appropriate portions, refrigerate and eat within two to three days, or freeze to eat later.

Read tips on storing and reheating leftovers.

You can also plan to use ingredients in different meals later in the week to reduce your preparation time (e.g. pasta, rice, potatoes, meat, etc.).

Store it right

Fruits and vegetables

Produce is the usual suspect when it comes to food that spoils. In the average Canadian household, one in four produce items get thrown in the garbage. That’s like throwing away $600 a year! By sharpening your food storage skills, you’ll save both food and money.

Fruits and vegetables are still breathing even after they’ve been pulled out of the earth or off the tree or vine. In general, warmth speeds up respiration and cold slows it down—that’s why refrigeration makes some foods last longer. Here are some basics tips to preserve your produce:

  1. Take produce out of plastic bags. Airtight wrappings suffocate fresh produce and speed up the decay process. 
  2. Don’t wash produce until you’re ready to eat it. Moisture encourages decomposition and mould growth.
  3. Don’t rip off fruit stems. Once living cells are broken, microorganisms start to grow. Keep produce whole as long as possible.
  4. Eat the most perishable items first—raspberries last a few days; potatoes can hang around for about a month. 

Organize the fridge

It’s important to understand how your fridge works and where best to store certain items. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Read your fridge’s instruction manual to learn how to adjust the temperature and humidity levels. The temperature should be set to 4 degrees Celsius or lower. The adjustable levers on the crisper drawers change humidity levels. If your fridge has these, set one to high humidity (closed, less air coming in) and one to low for the gas-emitting produce (open, more air coming in).
  • Store leftovers, drinks and ready-to-eat foods on the top shelf.
  • Store milk, eggs and dairy on the middle shelves, which are the coldest part of the fridge.  
  • Store raw meat and seafood on the bottom of shelves, which prevents drips from contaminating food below.  
  • The door is the warmest part of the fridge so be cautious of what items you store in the door.

All fruits and vegetables emit ethylene, a gas that stimulates ripening. Some emit high levels of ethylene, and others are sensitive to it so you will want to keep them away from each other. Most refrigerators have two crispers so you can separate the gas emitters from the non-gas emitters. Here’s an example of how you should organize your drawers:

Drawer 1 (gas emitters) Drawer 2 (non-gas emitters)
Apples, cantaloupes, honeydews, apricots, figs Bananas (ripe), cucumbers, peas, broccoli, eggplants, peppers, Brussel sprouts, kiwis, summer squash, cabbages, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsley, watermelons, cauliflower

For more information:

Use the freezer

Freezing is a great way to buy in bulk, extend the life of food and prepare meals in advance. Freezing is also a great way to preserve the nutrition of fruits and vegetables.

How to freeze food safely:

  • Very hot items can first be cooled at room temperature. Refrigerate once steaming stops. Within two hours, cooked foods should be refrigerated or frozen.
  • Cool food quickly in uncovered shallow dishes or in small amounts in the fridge.  
  • Leave some space between packages for cool air to move.
  • When freezing liquids, make sure to leave some space at the top of the jar. This is called “headroom” and allows the liquids to expand as they freeze.

Preventing the dreaded freezer burn:

When frozen food has not been wrapped properly or has been frozen for too long, it can become freezer burnt. This happens when air comes in contact with the food. Freezer burn looks like white or greyish-brown spots on the food. It can make foods dry and less tasty; however, the food is still safe to eat. You can cut away the parts of the food that have freezer burn and then use the rest. 

To prevent freezer burn, you need to stop air from coming in contact with the frozen food. Use heavy foil, freezer bags or containers designed for freezing food. Make sure to squeeze all the air out of freezer bags before sealing.

Decode the dates

There’s a lot of confusion about best before dates and expiry dates. Below are some tips to help you understand how to decode the dates. 

Expiry dates:

Very few foods have expiry dates after which they must not be sold or consumed:

  • Infant formula and other human milk substitutes
  • Formulated liquid diets
  • Pharmacist-sold foods for very low-energy diets
  • Meal replacements
  • Nutritional supplements

Best before dates:

The "best before" date does not guarantee product safety, but it does give you information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened food you are buying. This must appear on pre-packaged foods that will keep fresh for 90 days or less. Retail-packaged foods may be labelled with either a "best before" date and storage instructions, or the date packaged, along with a "best before" date and storage instructions.

Food with an anticipated shelf life greater than 90 days are not required to be labelled with a "best before" date or storage information.

Best before dates look like this:

Best before
11 JA 22
Meilleur avant

Monthly bilingual symbols:

January: JA
February: FE
March: MR
April: AL
May: MA
June: JN
July: JL
August: AU
September: SE
October: OC
November: NO
December: DE

You can buy and eat foods after the "best before" date has passed. It may have lost some of its freshness, flavour and nutritional value, and its texture may have changed. Remember, "best before" dates are not indicators of food safety. They apply to unopened products only. Once opened, the shelf life of a food may change. Never use your nose, eyes or taste buds to judge the safety of food. If in doubt, throw it out.

Foods that are likely to spoil should be properly stored, and they should be eaten as quickly as possible. Harmful micro-organisms that lead to foodborne illness can grow in foods, even if they do not appear to be spoiled.

Packaging date:

Appears on food packaged by the retailer (e.g. bread, meat) and is the date a food is placed for the first time in a package in which it will be offered for sale to a consumer. It must also have a best before date and storage instructions.

Donate and share

Consider giving away food you won’t be able to eat:

  • Two local Facebook groups in Red Deer will help distribute food you can’t eat: Leftovers Needing Homes and Extra Food Needing Homes. Note, you'll need to be logged into Facebook to access these pages. 
  • Bring leftovers and extra food to co-workers, friends and neighbours.
  • The Red Deer Foodbank welcomes any extra fresh produce you might have. You can also check out their Facebook page for a list the week's most needed items.