I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around this documented fact: Half of all produce grown in the U.S. is thrown out, while at the same time there is growing hunger and poverty right here in America.
As I read the first paragraph of this news story, I assumed naively that all U.S.-grown produce makes it to market. Then consumers like you and me get it home, let it go bad before we can consume it and into the garbage it goes. That is a factor, but not the whole story.
The truth is that vast quantities of fresh produce are left in the field to rot. It then becomes livestock feed or gets hauled directly to the landfill because of (get ready) cosmetic standards.
Not every potato, watermelon, strawberry, or grape cluster turns out photo-perfect. Some are ugly. And, unfortunately, that means they do not meet retailer and consumer demands for blemish-free, perfect produce.
Just imagine how the retail cost of produce might plummet if all that is produced—even the still-nutritious but ugly produce—were available for sale. More on that in a bit.
I don’t know that there’s anything we can do individually about this matter of retail waste, but I know we can stop the carnage in our homes.
According to the World Resources Institute, the average U.S. household of four people throws out about $1,600 in rotten food every year. Wow. That makes my head spin! Even if that number is far less in your home, consider these simple ways all of us can stop throwing our food dollars into the garbage.
Fresh produce is not cheap, and getting more expensive every day or so it seems. Now more than ever it’s important to bone up on how long your produce purchases are going to last so you make sure no fruits and vegetables end up in the garbage or compost.
You can count on these items to be generally fresh for:
1 to 3 days
- fresh leafy greens
3 to 6 days
- green beans
One week or longer
The way to do this is to have a good, realistic plan for the produce you bring into your house. Make certain you will consume it before it goes bad—regardless of the great sale price or how beautiful it looks in the store or farmer’s market. Simply buying too much is the number one reason that household produce lands in the garbage.
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Disinfect the fridge
I plead guilty on this one. I just don’t think about it if I can’t see a mess. The truth is that anytime something spoils in the refrigerator, it leaves behind mold we can’t see. As a result, this mold attacks the new fresh stuff you put in there. Disinfecting the inside surfaces of your refrigerator on a regular schedule will make everything last a little longer and smell a lot better.
Extend berry life
Soaking berries in a weak vinegar and water solution before you store them in the refrigerator will make them last for several days longer than simply putting them in the fridge. Add one part vinegar to 10 parts water. Swirl the berries around for just a few seconds. Rinse and store. Strawberries can last up to two weeks longer using this method.
This clever gadget slows down the ripening process by absorbing the natural ethylene gas, which all fruits and vegetables give off in the process of ripening. Ethylene is a harmless, odorless, and colorless gas responsible for the natural ripening process. A high concentration of ethylene gas in the refrigerator or the fruit bowl speeds up the ripening process and that’s what hastens spoilage.
The folks at BluApple estimate that by putting BluApple to work by placing one with the produce in the refrigerator and another in the fruit bowl sitting on the counter, the typical household can cut its annual food bill by $600. Not bad!
BluApple works really well—amazing, in fact. If you’re interested, I recommend starting with the Bluapple One-Year Combo Pack, which includes two BluApples (one for the fruit bowl, one for the refrigerator) and six ethylene absorbing packets, which is what you need for one full year of BluApple usefulness.
A Foodsaver vacuum-sealing machine (prices vary more depending on the model) is the best option for extending the useful life of produce. Food can be vacuum-sealed in bags or specific Foodsaver canisters. However, my favorite method for storing everything from strawberries to tomatoes and everything between is in ordinary glass canning jars.
This requires a Jar Sealing Kit that attaches to the Foodsaver. Simply fill a glass canning jar (regular or wide-mouth) with unwashed produce like strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. Set the lid on the jar and apply the jar sealer. Start the machine and it removes all of the air from the jar and seals the jar tightly.
Stored in the refrigerator, the contents will remain fresh and beautiful for weeks, not days, depending on what it is.
There is a lovely company, Imperfect Produce, that offers a subscription delivery service for “ugly” food. The San Francisco Bay area company estimates that about one-fifth of all fruit and vegetables end up in the dump for failure to conform to the industry standard of perfection. Imperfect Produce offers perfectly healthy and nutritious “ugly” produce for up to 50% less than retail store prices.
At this time, Imperfect Produce delivers to many major metropolitan areas in the US, 43 states —and coming soon to to all areas. Imperfect Produce is expanding quickly–so be sure to check back often to see if they’re adding your neighborhood yet.
Grow your own
Now more than ever, it’s important that we think about and made necessary plans to grow our own food. There’s nothing like a worldwide pandemic, long lines at food stores, plus talk and fear of food shortages to wake us up to the idea of becoming more self-reliant. You don’t need acreage to grow a garden. In fact, you don’t even need yard or plot of land (although that is surely a blessing if you do).
Start reading, start learning, start a garden!
photo credit: World Resources Institute
First published: 7-14-16; Expanded to include freshness guide 5-19-20