Don’t you just hate it when you buy fresh baby spinach or a nice steak and it goes bad before you can eat it? It’s not only an unfortunate waste of your food and your money. It also harms the environment.
Reducing food waste at home can be tricky. According to the EPA, up to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted every year—and a lot of that happens in our own kitchens.
Fortunately, advances in packaging (particularly plastic packaging) make it easier to keep healthful foods fresh longer in your pantry or fridge. In other words, reducing food waste at home starts at the grocery store… often by choosing the right packaging. Here are a few simple examples:
1. Leafy Greens
A head of lettuce on its own gets slimy pretty fast. But those plastic bags/packages with pre-washed greens actually help regulate the amount of air your leafy greens are exposed to. It’s called “modified atmosphere packaging,” and it keeps produce crisp and delicious much longer.
When storing fresh cucumbers, even in your fridge, they start losing moisture and within days turn bad and slimy (there’s that word again). Unless they’re swaddled in thin, lightweight plastic wrap. In that case, they sometimes can last for weeks. That plastic wrap basically helps keep the moisture and flavor in your cucumbers (where they belong).
Keeping berries fresh used to be a pain. It’s a bit easier now with the new-ish packaging they’re sold in. With berries, it’s not so much about keeping all moisture in—it’s more about letting out just the right amount. Those vented plastic clamshell containers are specially designed for that. So keep the berries in the container and store them in the fridge if you’re not going to eat them right away.
You may remember when grocery stores just piled mounds of grapes on a shelf and shoppers picked a bunch or two off the top. Not anymore. Grapes last longer when air circulates around them to prevent mold. That’s one reason most grapes today are sold in ventilated plastic bags. The folks behind National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month advise us to “place fruits and vegetables in separate, perforated plastic bags” when refrigerating them. (Anybody with their own month must know what they’re talking about…)
5. Meat, fish, and poultry
When animal proteins go bad, things get ugly. The sniff test feels like playing Russian roulette. And large chunks of your food budget end up in a dumpster. To avert this travesty, these foods increasingly are sold in lightweight vacuum packaging, a skin-like covering that acts as a barrier against air (and other contaminants). Less air = less waste of your sirloin, swordfish, or chicken tenderloins.
Nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, snack meats, protein powders: all tasty and healthy. (Well, “tasty” depends on the protein powder.) But not all packaging is equally adept at keeping them fresh. A solution: look for these and other snacks in re-sealable pouches. The plastic zipper pouches allow you to use just what you need, squeeze out most of the air, and then easily seal the bag to help keep the rest fresh.
Wine in plastic packaging? Well, if you want to keep an open container of wine from spoiling quickly, a good bet is that box of wine on your grocer’s shelves. Of course, the wine in those boxes is not really touching the cardboard (duh). The box basically holds a plastic bag and spigot that do a good job of protecting the wine from oxygen, so wine typically lasts longer than it does in uncorked bottles. (Fortunately, wine in a box is no longer primarily “plonk.” Even Wine Spectator has nice things to say about it.)
So… reducing food waste at home starts at the grocery store, often by choosing the right packaging. Just a little bit of plastic packaging can prevent a whole lot of food waste. With minor adjustments to your shopping routine and tweaks to your storage habits, you can help extend the life of your food.
And stave off “slimy” a bit longer.
See more about the different plastic bags, wraps, and containers that can help your leftovers last longer.