Earth Day 2021

Earth Day 2021

 

Fresh orange carrots with dirt and green stems

Carrots
Photo source: Heidi Copeland

According to industry standards, some of these carrots could not be sold because of “Serious damage” or  any defect which seriously affects the general appearance of the
carrots in the container. 

Waste less, save money is a great creed to live by.  Really, it is that simple.  One excellent example of this is food. Research indicates that 40% of all food in America is wasted yet, one in eight Americans does not have enough access to affordable, nutritious food. In other words, they are “food insecure.”

Wasted food is a MASSIVE  problem at the commercial, institutional and residential levels. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there is more food than any other single material in our everyday trash and that approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted. In fact, in 2015, the USDA joined with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.

The sad fact is, most people do not realize how much impact food and food waste has on the earth and its issues of sustainability. Food waste occurs at every level of involvement. Examples of food waste include growing, processing (by-products too), transporting, point of sale, plate waste and uneaten prepared foods, and kitchen trimmings and their eventual disposal. Preventing food waste at all these levels can make a difference in addressing this issue.

However, preventing food waste it is not as easy as it seems.  Many consumer factors also contribute to the problem.

  • Food date labels confuse people. Use by/sell by dates are not always about food safety but about peak quality.  Many foods are still safe to eat after their dates. Inspect “expired” foods closely via sight and smell before consuming –  find ways to use up food past its prime.
  • Households overbuy – do you really need super sizes? Buying in bulk is not always less expensive if much of it is discarded. Only purchase what you know you will use and do not get lured in by the “more for less” deals.
  • Massive portions are often served – share or learn to love leftovers. Split enormous portions into multiple meals.
  • Grocery stores overstock their shelves to maintain an image of abundance.
  • People demand “perfect” produce.  Farmers have a hard time selling less than stellar items. “Ugly” fruits and vegetables are just as delicious and nutritious as their more photogenic counterparts. Places such as farmers’ markets and community gardens are good places to find imperfect produce that would otherwise go to waste.

This Earth Day, (an event first celebrated on April 22, 1970 in the United States and is now a globally coordinated event in more than 193 countries) commit  yourself to taking an action.  As the late Neil Armstrong famously quoted as he stepped on to the moon… “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!” If each of us considered and implemented our own practical or creative approaches to preventing food from going to waste what would our collective actions mean for mankind?

row of orange carrots with dirt and green stems

Fresh Carrots
Photo Source: Heidi Copeland

The best way to reduce food loss at home is not to create it in the first place.  Not only would we individually save money, our collective efforts could conserve resources for future generations. The best method is the one you use.

  1. Reduce wasted food – shop smart, plan what you purchase, and use it, ALL of it!
  2. Maximize the efficiency of your refrigerator based on science. Read your refrigerator manual to learn where the coldest spots in the refrigerator are and what foods benefit from refrigerator location.
  3. Maximize the efficacy of canned products… use the FIFO (first in first out) method of rotation to use the oldest product before the newest on the shelf.
  4. Donate what you cannot use to others.
  5. Divert food scraps to animal food (chickens anyone?)
  6. Compost
  7. Landfill as the last resort.

Common causes of personal food waste include overbuying, over preparing and spoilage. The basic tenets of sustainability – reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse, work to reduce food waste too! Pay attention to purchases, eat what is prepared, store food properly, and refuse to waste. We can all do our part! Let’s start today.

https://savethefood.com/recipes/ 

 

Reducing Food Waste

Reducing Food Waste

Food waste is a huge problem here in the United States. Here are a few incredible facts: Food is the most common solid source of waste in American landfills. Anywhere from 25-40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the US will never be eaten. Food waste harms the environment and results in a lot of wasted money.

Looking for ways to reduce food waste? Just follow these six tips.

Plan meals carefully. Only purchase what will be eaten in a reasonable amount of time, especially perishable items. Buying large quantities of fresh produce, dairy, and other perishables may seem like a time-saving practice. However, throwing spoiled food away not only wastes money, but also time, since the spoiled items need to be replaced during another trip to the market.

close-up of a compost pile

Instead of throwing old fruits and vegetables away, turn them into nutrient-rich compost to help your garden thrive. (Photo source: Camila Guillen, UF/IFAS)

Freeze or re-use food whenever possible. Not all food freezes well. However, fresh fruits and vegetables freeze quickly and easily when handled properly and can last in the freezer for months. Vegetable scraps are also great for making compost, which enriches the soil and can help support the growth of backyard gardens.

Look at the sell by/use by/best by dates on food products. Try to purchase items with the longest shelf-life (the latest date) available. If a product is close to its sell by date, be sure to use it or freeze it quickly. Keep in mind, however, that just because a product is past its use by date does not mean it is unsafe to eat. Take it on a case-by-case basis. If there is no mold, pests, off odors, off colors, or off textures, the product is safe to consume. This is especially true for dry, non-perishable items.

Store food properly. Storing foods at the wrong temperatures can speed up the spoilage process. Keep the refrigerator between 37 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry goods storage should ideally be around 50 degrees F, but since this is not realistic for most of us, just make sure dry goods are stored in a cool, dry place outside of direct sunlight.

Stay organized. Arrange items so that the oldest stuff is in front. This helps ensure it is used first. Always label frozen foods with the item name and date it was first frozen and use within 12 months whenever possible. Foods frozen for longer than a year start to diminish in flavor and texture. Old food also tends to attract pests, so making sure things are used efficiently can help eliminate the risk of insects and rodents.

Donate non-perishables to those in need. Food banks and other community organizations are always looking for food donations to help the hungry. Non-perishable foods that have not surpassed their use by/sell by dates are always welcome donations. Instead of trashing it, share it with someone less fortunate.

In most cases, food affected by flood damage or other disasters should be discarded for safety reasons. Better to be safe than sorry. However, everyday food waste is completely avoidable if a few simple rules are followed. The amount of food thrown away each year in the US is disheartening. When shopping, being a little more mindful of quantities and dates can help reduce overall food waste, saving both money and the environment.

Additional Resources:
National Center for Home Food Preservation (University of Georgia Extension)
Food Waste Resources (Kansas State University Extension)

UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

February is National Canned Food Month

February is National Canned Food Month

Woman standing in front of shelves of home canned food.

Homemade canned preserves 1942.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo

In 1795, Napoleon needed a better way to preserve large quantities of food for his troops during the Napoleonic Wars, so his government offered a reward of 12,000 francs for the invention of a new food preservation method. In 1809, Nicolas Appert won that award with his canning technique that used glass containers that were sealed then heated to a set temperature. Peter Durand created the tin canister a year later. These inventions led to the canning materials and processes that are used today to preserve food for people all over the world.

Canned food provides a convenient and often less expensive way to include fruits and vegetables in the diet of many individuals and families. Canned foods are also considered a staple in many pantries because of their shelf life. Commercially canned products may keep the food packed inside at its best quality for 1 to 5 years depending on the type of food. Most home canned foods are able to be stored for up to a year, though there are some exceptions.

Canned goods on a shelf.

Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

To make the most of canned foods, keep these tips in mind.

Best by or use by dates on commercial products do not indicate safety. They are estimated dates provided by the manufacturer on how long they believe their product would be at its best quality. The exception to this is for infant formula products that are required to have a “Use-By” date and should not be used after that date.

Avoid cans or jars that are not in good condition. Look for dents, swelling or bulging, leaking, rust, cracks in jars or loose lids. If the food has a foul odor or spurts liquid when it’s opened, do not use it. Any of these could indicate the food may have been contaminated or could contain Clostridium botulinum toxins.

Woman canning in the kitchen.

A woman canning in the kitchen.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo

Store canned foods in a cool, dark and dry space. This will help them to last longer and keep the food inside at its best quality. Keep canned foods in an area that is between 50-70°F.

Use canned foods to fill nutrition gaps. Add a can of vegetables to your dinner menu—a side of green beans or carrots can help balance your plate. Try using a can of fruit as a basis for a dessert. Pineapple and cottage cheese, anyone? If you’re concerned about sodium or sugar in canned foods, look for products marked as low sodium or lite for less sugar. Compare ingredient and nutrition labels of different brands or varieties of a product to find what works best for you.

If you can foods at home, make sure you’re following recipes that have been tested for safety. Follow the guidelines in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 Revision or find more information at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. You can also contact your local extension office; in Florida, you can find your local office here.

 

Resources:

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, How Did We Can?: https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/timeline-table

U.S. Department of Agriculture, AskUSDA, How long can you keep canned goods?: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-canned-goods

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Product Dating: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating

Dining In is In Again

Dining In is In Again

Dining out with family was the thing to do when we were so busy doing so much outside the home. Now that we’re spending more time at home together, dining in is in again. You can start or continue the “in” thing by taking the pledge to dine-in healthy with your family this December 3rd.  Why take this kind of pledge? Keep reading.

FCS Dine In Day circle logo

FCS Dine In Day

Making and keeping a promise has an upside

Keeping the commitment you made to eat healthy with your family means you get to reap the rewards of actually providing a healthy meal for your family. Additionally, keeping this promise can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem because you know you’re making strides to take care of yourself and your family.

Become popular

Since dining in is in again, eating healthy with your family December 3rd makes you the admired one to your family and friends. As you dine in together, share praises and compliments as well as healthy foods, and reinforce the feeling of belonging. After providing these trendy experiences often enough, you can begin to enjoy the adoration and respect of others around you. You can be popular.

It’s cherished time

Schedule it. Block off time for it. Show up for it. You and your family are worth it. Start with the pledge on December 3rd. For best success for a healthy lifestyle change, make it a S.M.A.R.T. goal. That’s one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed. Here’s an example: Every Tuesday at 6pm, our family will eat a healthy meal together that includes at least two vegetables and a whole grain.

You can keep it safe
  • If ventilation indoors is a bit stifling, eat outdoors when you can. Backyards, patios, and porches are great venues for your dining experiences.
  • Clean your hands often as you prepare and eat your meal. If you can’t wash for 20 seconds with soap and running water, hand sanitizer is a good backup. Make sure your hands are completely dry after washing or sanitizing.
  • Cook foods to the proper temperature. See the Safe Internal Temperature Chart.
  • Put leftovers away as quickly as possible.
Tried and true or something new
  • Have fun. Try decorating to make your mealtime together special. Let all family members participate.
  • Make comfort food. But also try making something you’ve never had before, or try food prepared in a new way.
  • Look through the cabinets or in the garage for kitchen equipment you haven’t used in a long time or have forgotten you had. Then use it.

For better health and wellness, make the pledge to Dine In with your family this December 3rd.  Now is the time – especially since dining in is in again.

Pantry Pests

Pantry Pests

Ugh!

Have you ever taken something out of your pantry or cupboard to find the item teeming with pests? I have and it is NOT a good feeling! Recently, I attempted to use raw almonds I had stored in a sealed plastic bag only to discover worms! Yes, worms! Then, upon careful inspection, a few moths! Not only did it ruin my meal plan, it ruined my appetite for almonds!

On the bright side, it forced me to clean out my pantry. I emptied the shelves. I took EVERYTHING out and inspected both the shelving and the food packages/containers. I removed the shelves, vacuumed all the cracks and crevices, washed everything down and used a fan to ensure dry, future pest-free storage. I was lucky; my infestation was limited to a bag of raw almonds purchased a few weeks prior.

Inspect all pantry items before putting them away to eliminate pests. Photo source: Heidi Copeland

However, I learned that almonds could be the harbinger of a moth. And, as you probably know, moths do not actually start out as a moth but as an egg. In nature, the moth lays an egg and the egg hatches to a larva (caterpillar). Upon maturation, the larva forms its pupa (cocoon) and from the pupa emerges the adult moth, only to start the whole cycle over again! Mating and egg laying begin almost immediately after adults emerge from the pupa.

Raw almonds have NOT been heat treated, thus it is pretty common for the product to contain perhaps an element of surprise. (Note: Eating this product with the worm intact hurts nothing other than our psyche!) Although I am certain my moth was an almond moth, the Indianmeal moth has an attraction for the same pheromone (scent). Thus, after buying food, it is extremely important that ALL pantry goods be examined carefully to eliminate the next generation of adults that can fly and contribute to an infestation. EDIS publication EENY-026 Indianmeal Moth is a great publication with pictures of common hiding places. Moths in particular can be found among tree nuts, grains, cereals, spices, herbs, pasta, starches, flour, and even pet foods.

However, pantry pests are not limited to moths. EDIS publication ENY-213 Pantry and Stored Food Pests has pictures and information of the many species of stored food pests found at various times in food pantries. In fact, there is hardly a food item in the kitchen or food pantry that can escape being infested by some pest if it remains unused and exposed in some dark corner or drawer long enough.

To kill insects in infested foods, place food in an oven at 130 degrees F for 30 minutes or in the freezer at 0 degrees F for four days. If freezing, place the food item in a tightly sealed plastic bag to limit condensation on the product, which can lead to mold growth. Defrost the item in the plastic bag and use the product as soon as possible.

During Covid-19, and now hurricane season, consumers have been encouraged to have food on hand for weeks at a time. Now is a good time to take stock of the pantry and learn how to use the FIFO – first in, first out – system of product rotation. FIFO simply encourages prioritization and the use of stored items, so the oldest products are used first.

The presence of stored food pests is not an indication of uncleanliness, since an insect may be brought home in purchased food or on purchased food packages. However, it is important when purchasing any food product, to inspect your purchase to ensure you do not bring home an insect. Even one insect left alone long enough can cause an infestation.

 

Know How to be Safe, Not Sorry Regarding Household Food Safety

Know How to be Safe, Not Sorry Regarding Household Food Safety

Deep regret and guilt are feelings I experience every time I throw something  away in my pantry or refrigerator that I have not quite exhausted. What stays? What goes? Does an expiration date really tell you the WHOLE story?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), under the jurisdiction of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), manufacturers put dates on food products to let retail stores and consumers know how long their products are expected to be their best quality. Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by Federal regulations.

“Best By” date refers to product quality, not safety. Photo source: UF/IFAS NW District

BEST apparently has many interpretations. Food items only need to be labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and in compliance with FSIS regulations.

Many factors determine these quality dates. Additionally, manufacturers and retailers follow strict procedures in the manufacturing, distribution, and storage of food products. However, there is no strict rule to dictate what BEST practices need to be followed once the food leaves the distribution chain and enters, most specifically, our homes. Because of this, food product dating errs on the side of caution.

It has been suggested that date labeling on food products results in consumer confusion and can result in the extraordinary amount of waste at both the retail and consumer level (>30%). Thus, it is important that consumers understand the dates applied to food are for quality, not for safety. The USDA even recognizes that food products are safe to consume past the date on the label, and, regardless of the date, consumers should evaluate the quality of the food product prior to its consumption.

However, it is up to the consumer to understand the significance of product dates and handle food products appropriately.

  • “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A“Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date. 
  • “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality (it is not a safety date except when used on infant formula).
  • “Freeze-By”date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • Can codes are a type of closed dating which enables the tracking of product in interstate commerce. These codes also enable manufacturers to rotate their stock and locate their products in the event of a recall. Can codes appear as a series of letters and/or numbers and refer to the date the product was canned. The codes are not meant for the consumer to interpret as a “Best if Used By” date.

Canned goods must exhibit a code or the date of canning. Cans may also display “open” or calendar dates. Usually these are “Best if Used By” dates for peak quality. Discard cans that are dented, rusted, or swollen. High-acid canned foods (e.g. tomatoes and fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods (e.g. meats and vegetables) will keep for two to five years.

Additional information on food canning and the handling of canned foods may be found at Shelf-Stable Food Safety.

  • Bar Codes on Food Packages are commonly referred to as Universal Product Codes (UPC) and are a type of code that appears on packages as black lines of varying widths above a series of numbers. The UPC is not required by regulation, but manufacturers print them on most product labels because scanners at supermarkets can “read” them quickly to record the price at checkout.

UPCs are also used by stores and manufacturers for inventory purposes and marketing information. When read by a computer, a UPC can reveal such specific information as the manufacturer’s name, product name, size of product, and price. The numbers are not used to identify recalled products.

  • Dates on Egg Cartons can indicate either a “Sell-By” or “Expiration” (EXP) date. It is not a federal regulation, but may be required, as defined by the egg laws in the state where the eggs are marketed. Some state egg laws do not allow the use of a “sell-by” date.

Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them must display the “pack date” (the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton). This number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. When a “sell-by” date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 30 days from the date of pack.

In the United States, after purchasing eggs, it is recommended to refrigerate them in their original carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door due to loss of coolness from repeated opening of the door.

The restaurant industry standard, first-in, first-out (FIFO), is also a quick and easy way for the consumer to keep track of their food freshness. FIFO simply means to use food in order of freshness dates.  Following the FIFO principle ensures foods with the shortest shelf-life get used first (a permanent marker can help, too).

Throwing something away takes little effort. However, knowing what to keep takes more than a discriminating eye and a keen sense of smell. The Kitchen Companion is a great downloadable resource and reference guide for consumers who are attempting to reduce their own kitchen waste without regret and guilt.

Learn how to be safe, not sorry, without the regret of being wasteful with food products in your home.

Sources:
https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/6c55c954-20a8-46fd-b617-ecffb4449062/Kitchen_Companion_Single.pdf?MOD=AJPERES