Saturday, December 3, 2016

Can I still eat this? Some basics on saving or tossing food

Canada Food Board, through Wikipedia
Our earliest ancestors—who roamed forests and grasslands to hunt and gather foods, carrying whole antelope or heavy baskets of fruits picked from trees or tubers dug from the ground back to their shelter—had to ask the question.

Early agriculturalists—who stored grains they painstakingly harvested and kept safe from wild animals to last them through the winter—had to ask the question.

Today, even those of us back from a trip to a modern supermarket with food in a refrigerator, have to ask the question.

Can I still eat this?

Answer:  It depends.

And it's important.

We who are blessed with said supermarket and fridge waste a lot of food. Globally, people toss out 2.9 trillion pounds of food Each Year, more than enough to feed the depressingly high 800 million people that suffer from hunger—consistent hunger without a snack waiting for them at home.

A typical food waste mix. Photo:

A new study has found that between 1/5 and 1/3 of all food produced gets thrown away at some stage in the production-harvest-transport-purchase cycle. Moreover, "food systems are now the source of 60% of terrestrial biodiversity loss, 24% of greenhouse-gas emissions, 33% of soil degradation and 61% of the depletion of commercial fish stocks."

Throwing out food wastes enormous amounts of fossil fuels, land, fertilizers, time, money, and of course, food. If you are not a farmer, you can still help by eating the foods you buy, so you don't have to buy more unnecessarily.

Rob Greenfield photographed what he found after biking across the U.S.,
eating only what he found dumpster diving, to highlight the amount of food wasted every day.
Photo: Rob Greenfield (click the link to see his photos of food rescued from dumpsters in 8 cities).

You can minimize your food's carbon footprint by eating locally produced food and making plants (fruits and veggies) the mainstay of your diet.

You can also store food correctly. The video below explains expiration dates, why fruits turn soft and brown, good and bad mold, and what happens in sour milk.

In brief:
  • Expiration dates are recommendations and don't indicates potential food poisoning.
  • Fruits that turn soft have been around long enough for enzymes to break down starch in cell walls into simple sugars that are soft (and mushy!). The browning comes from oxidation, which does not hurt you, but doesn't taste as good, so you can cut it off.
  • Molds are different types of fungus, some of which are harmless and yummy, such as those in blue cheese. Others will make us sick, and unless you can identify them, you should not eat moldy fruits, breads, and leftovers.  You can cut mold off hard foods, such as cheeses, but many fungi reach
  • Milk sours due to bacteria that feed on lactose in the milk and produce lactic acid, which tastes sour.
  • If a food looks, smells, or tastes bad, don't eat it!
Other ideas to consider before your food has been sitting around:
  • Use smaller plates and go back for seconds if you want them, to avoid serving yourself too much.
  • Store and eat your leftovers - some foods taste better when they've had time to meld flavors, and you can freeze a lot more foods than you may think.
  • Make smoothies from soft fruits!

The US Department of Agriculture has developed Food Keeper, an app designed to help you use food while at peak quality and reduce waste.

It suggests how long you can wait to eat frozen or unfrozen foods, from meats and produce to baked goods, baby food and veggie proteins and is also available as an app for your Android phone.

Have a look at other ways to reduce food waste at this Treehugger post.

And for you eager learners out there, check out these statistics in Nature on food production, use, waste, and consumption.

Buying locally -- the eggplants, peppers, and other foods at my local farmers market.


  1. This is a really great thing you’re sharing here. I am often confused whether my bananas are good to eat or not. And it saves food too!

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  4. Great post on so much wasted food. Just imagine how many children could be saved if we were more frugal in our approach to food portions.



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