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Prairie Fare: Feeling Guilty About Throwing Food

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Most of us can reduce food waste at home. Most of us can reduce food waste at home.
According to a 2014 report from U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, about 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of food available is lost annually.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Whenever I discover food past its prime and/or safety in my refrigerator, I feel a little guilty throwing it away. Maybe you, your parents or grandparents lived through the 1920s and 1930s when times were sometimes tough economically.

We rarely threw food away when I was young. Although sometimes we grumbled about having leftovers “again,” those early lessons have stayed with me.

Dried-out bread became bread pudding or French toast or a meat extender in meatballs or meatloaf. Leftover vegetables became part of soups or casseroles.

Other foods were frozen if we would not eat the food in a timely manner. We had a large freezer in the basement where leftovers could remain high in quality for months. Extra vegetables from our garden were shared with others or preserved by canning or freezing.

Recently I was making a salad that required mayonnaise. Before I opened our pantry for a new jar, I checked the refrigerator. I found a jar half full of mayonnaise tucked in the back of the refrigerator. It was nice and cold but much past its prime based on the “best if used by” date.

I opted to open a new smaller jar when I noted the date and the quality of the product in the half-full jar.

Mayonnaise often is blamed for foodborne illness but usually it is not the cause. Mayonnaise is acidic, and the acidity level helps preserve it. The color, texture and flavor of mayonnaise can deteriorate when forgotten in the back of the refrigerator, though.

Opened mayonnaise kept in a refrigerator usually is fine to use for a couple of months beyond the best by date.

We do not make a lot of recipes with mayonnaise, so I should have purchased the smaller jar with the higher cost per ounce. When I tossed out the leftover mayonnaise, my cost savings disappeared. Sometimes the larger jar is not the better buy.

A lot of food goes uneaten annually in the U.S. for a variety of reasons. Economists call these uneaten calories “food loss.” Food waste is part of “food loss.”

By “loss,” we do not necessarily mean that the food was hidden from view behind a jug of milk in your refrigerator. Loss can happen for many reasons from the farm or food-processing facility to our home. Conditions that promote food loss include pest damage, mold, poor climate control during storage, cooking losses and waste in the kitchen.

According to a 2014 report from U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, about 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of food available is lost annually. About 43 billion pounds of food are lost at the retail level and 90 billion pounds are lost at the consumer level.

Yes, we are talking billions of pounds and trillions of calories. In 2010, this loss totaled $161.6 billion. Meat, poultry and fish make up about 30 percent of the total food loss, with vegetables in second place at 19 percent and dairy rounding out the top three at 17 percent.

We can’t save all the food, but most of us can reduce food waste at home. Consider these tips:

  • Buy what you need and avoid purchasing the bruised or fully ripe fruits at the store unless you can use it right away.
  • Use your leftovers as lunches. They will remain safe to eat for three to four days in your refrigerator.
  • Repurpose your leftovers in casseroles, soups, stir-fry, quesadillas or omelets using what you have on hand. Check out the “Pinchin’ Pennies in the Kitchen” guides available on the FoodWi$e website at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/foodwise. Click on “Food Preparation.” Check out the “Food Storage Guide” while you are on the website. Enter the title in the search box.
  • Freeze your leftover fruits, vegetables and other foods. Maintain the good quality of your frozen foods by following the directions provided at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food in the “Food Preservation” section. Click on “Freezing.”

Here’s a recipe where you can use up some potential leftovers in your refrigerator or the last items from your garden.

Hot Corn, Pepper and Cheese Dip

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided

16 ounces frozen corn, thawed

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1 c. onion, chopped

1/2 c. red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 c. green onions, chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 c. mayonnaise

Pinch cayenne pepper

4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, divided

4 ounces Monterey jack cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 400 F. Melt half of the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium to high heat and add the corn, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kernels turn a deep golden brown. Transfer to a bowl. Melt the remaining butter in the skillet and add the onions and bell peppers. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent. Add the green onions, jalapeno and garlic and cook until the vegetables are softened. Combine with the corn. Add the mayonnaise, half of the cheddar cheese, half of the Monterey jack cheese and the cayenne pepper and mix well to combine. Pour into an 8- by 8-inch baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Serve hot with tortilla chips.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 190 calories, 14 grams (g) of fat, 6 g of protein, 12 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 300 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)


NDSU Agriculture Communication – Oct. 2, 2014

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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