By Maddy Rohr, K-State Extension
Food waste is common in households after the holidays, but also happens year around. Kansas State University food scientist Karen Blakeslee said in almost 32 percent of average households, leftover food – along with forgotten food – is wasted.
“Of all of the sources of wasted food, residential homes make up 37.2 percent of surplus food wasted,” Blakeslee said, adding that many studies have shown that wasted food fills up landfills and causes more damage to the environment than other factors.
Utilizing leftovers and food already in your home before purchasing new food is a step to minimize food waste.
Blakeslee suggests labeling and dating leftovers so you know what they are and when they were made. She also recommends repurposing leftovers into other meals such as soup, stir-fry or casserole. Plan a day each week to purposely use leftovers.
“Many foods lose quality over time, but may still be safe to consume. Always inspect packages for damage, leaks, color changes, off-odors or other signals that the food may not be good or safe to consume,” Blakeslee said. “Refrigerated leftovers should be used within 3-4 days or frozen, and use frozen leftovers within a few months.”
She suggests the K-State Research and Extension publications, Safe Food Storage: The Refrigerator and Freezer and Safe Food Storage: The Cupboard, as guides to store food properly.
“For most shelf stable foods, the shelf life dates are an indication of best quality,” she said. “So if you have some foods past those dates, they may have reduced quality but still be safe to eat.”
Blakeslee recommends looking at your kitchen management plan:
• Make a shopping list before going to the grocery store.
• Take an inventory of what food you have in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry.
• Create a meal plan to utilize what you have before you buy more food.
• Prepare meals at home. This helps you use the food you have, save money, and increase family time.
• Freeze leftovers to use later.
• Don’t forget about leftovers from restaurants. They can make a quick and easy lunch the next day.
• Challenge family members with incentives to help encourage smart food use. Start a recipe challenge to create ways to use up leftovers or other foods on hand.
• Start a compost plan if possible. This can utilize food scraps to become nutrition for your garden or landscape.