In the U.S. alone, 150,000 tons of food is wasted daily, according to a recent study. That’s about a pound of food per person, every single day. That being so, it stands to reason that most of us aren’t doing enough to stop food from going to waste.
I love coming up with ways to cook with leftovers and expiring foods. I recently made broccoli tots using yellowed broccoli. Really, there are no leftovers I will not smash together with other leftovers. I love coming up with ways to cook with leftovers and expiring foods. And believe me, I will argue with anyone about the best search-by-ingredient recipe sites. I’ve found that older fruits and vegetables can be repurposed if cooked, fried, or whatever, at high temperatures, but that’s my personal venture. I have no professional food training — that’s just me working on my part. Now let’s talk about the food industry. The USDA says yearly that millions of pounds of U.S. grocery retail food is thrown out. There is just so much surplus food!
One organization that aims to curb food waste is Second Servings of Houston, a non-profit founded in 2014. Second Servings of Houston collects unsold foods from stores, restaurants, caterers, distributors, conventions, and other regulated food sources of all sizes, then redistributes the goods to 46 charity recipient agencies, as of 2018. The food is high quality, sometimes even gourmet.
Major food donors include Toyota Center, Minute Maid, Brother’s Produce, Shell Houston Open, among many more. Recipients include Covenant House, Loaves & Fishes, Houston Area Women’s Center, the Montrose Center, and more.
While boasting an impressive clientele, founder Barbara Bronstein says her greatest challenge is convincing local supermarkets to participate.
“We’ve been discouraged from participating in picking up food from supermarkets,” says Bronstein. “The Houston Food Bank holds contracts to handle picking up unsold items from local supermarkets such as HEB and Kroger. Two years since we first asked, nothing’s changed… bagged salads, veggies, and fruits, and snacks, they’re all being thrown away. They’re not picking them all up, and the reason for not picking them up, is capacity. They would need to pick up food more frequently than twice a week. Food redistribution is all we do, and we’d love the opportunity to help.”
I reached out to the Houston Food Bank to confirm Bronstein’s claims, and they couldn’t discuss this information with me. Not to discount all of the work that they do, but it sounds like more could be done.
Then there’s expiration dates. Expiration dates are almost all manufacture-driven. I had thought this before, and Bronstein agreed. She told me that infant formula is currently the only item in supermarkets that has federally-mandated expiration dates, and that any other expiration date found in U.S. grocery stores is determined by the manufacturer. Anything else can be more truly determined as safe to eat using foodsafety.gov — and common sense.
“As a manufacturer, you don’t want your product to not sell and you most likely don’t care if it’s thrown away or sold,” says Bronstein. “There’s no standard terminology. There was a recent push in Washington to get some standardization, but right now the confusion causes 91 percent of Americans to throw away food that’s deemed unsafe to eat, when it’s not.”
One food-saving tip from Bronstein is to try storing items upside down.
“Sour cream, cottage cheese, salsa, and more… if you turn them upside down in your fridge, it creates a vacuum that keeps the bacteria from invading. If you look in my fridge, you’re going to see a lot of things upside down, and if you do that, food can last a long, long time.”
And for the times we have extra meals in our kitchens, share. Yeah, due to city-wide ordinances on food and those in need, publicly handing out food is tough. Food Not Bombs is here for that. They do that. I can’t not mention them in this article. I can’t discount here all that they can do.
Okay, so I’ve only scratched the surface on what the most of us can do. At the very least, the next time you clean out your fridge and pantry, think about what’s left over. Review your food before abiding by expiration dates. Check it out. Take a sniff. See what FoodSafety.gov has to say for a more accurate review of whether or not your food has gone bad. Try broccoli tots!