Best if Used – Keep Food Out of the Garbage

Posted on November 01, 2017

This time of year means colder weather, shorter days, holidays, and more opportunities to prevent food waste. As you get ready to cook the biggest meals of the year, take some time to plan and prepare for reducing food waste. Forty percent of food in America is wasted. That is a big number that can be greatly reduced with some willingness and attention from individual households.

Waste Not

Food waste statistics are eye opening. About 90 percent of us throw away food too soon and 20 percent of food we purchase never gets eaten. The United States wastes more food than any other country in the world by an alarming amount. Locally, the waste sort results in Hennepin County found that 20 percent of what was found in the garbage was food while Eureka Recycling says the average Saint Paul household wastes up to $96 worth of food every month.

While many of the statistics are gloomy, there is plenty of hope! There are ways to reverse these trends that start with individual shoppers, cooks and eaters.

Pay Attention Shoppers

For most of us, potential food waste starts at the grocery store. Oftentimes food gets purchase, tossed in the refrigerator and forgotten, until it is discovered as unusable. Smart shopping is a great solution. Keep an inventory and check the list before you shop. Don’t buy duplicates you don’t need.

  • Make a list! Shoppers who stick to written lists historically have lower grocery bills and fewer shopping trips. Buy in bulk when possible to get the exact amounts you need.
  • Plan your meals! A good list is made even better when combined with meal planning. Check your fridge for items you already have and be sure to plan for leftovers.
  • Watch your wallet and your garbage can! Many tips to limit food waste can also help save money. Don’t shop hungry or tired and avoid buying the big bargain deals if you can’t use the large quantities before they go bad.
  • Know your labels!  Changes are happening to food labels. Decipher the dates on products and know that sell by, best before, and best if used by doesn’t mean the food is bad. Remember that all food is best if used!

Better Storage

Once the shopping is done, proper food storage is the next step towards preventing food waste. Consider creative solutions like using an “eat me first” or “use it up” shelf to identify items that need be used. Get the most out of your refrigerator by making sure that the temperature is cold enough and that you store items like dairy in the colder areas. Clear containers and labels make sure you can tell what leftovers you have. Keep a list of when items were added to your fridge to make sure nothing gets lost in the back. Find the best way to store any item. By cleaning produce, storing items in the best location for them and findings ways to store even the tricky items, you can ensure that your food will last longer.

Cooked, Used and Diverted

Keep track of the items that need to get used first and cook them! There are even ways to use food items that are past their prime. Make banana bread out of black bananas, use vegetable scraps to make a vegetable broth, and repurpose leftovers just like you were on a cooking show. Preventing food waste requires attention at every part of the process. Track the food you waste and find ways to prevent it from happening again. Use alternatives like composting and organics recycling instead of putting items in the garbage, and help reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfills or incinerators.


Beginning in 2018, the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board will discontinue monthly blogs and e-newsletters. As always, questions about recycling may be directed to county and city recycling staff.