Nutrition Corner: Reduce your food waste with these kitchen techniques

September 24th, 2015 3:09 pm

The Environment Protection Agency recently set a goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030. It’s important to feed people, not landfills. How do we, at home in our kitchens, affect landfills?

When we throw food out, it mostly contributes to the 18 percent of the total methane (greenhouse gases) emissions that comes from landfills. Landfills are the third largest source of methane in the U.S., according to Remember, methane is a gas released by landfills that contributes to the threat of climate change.

Americans get finicky when it comes to eating foods past “the date.” At least that’s the thought in the recent report that concluded American’s food waste is filling up the landfills. But do we know what those dates really mean?

Many of us check the date on the package and then, if it’s passed, we chuck it. Actually, the date doesn’t always mean it’s not safe to eat or drink. It’s interesting to note only the use-by date on infant formula is a safety, not a quality, issue. Do not buy or use baby formula after its use-by date. All other food products are quality, not safety, issues.

A use-by date is the last date recommended for the use of the product at peak quality. The manufacturer determines that date for best quality. According to USDA, except for use-by dates, even if the other dates, best-buy date or sell-by date, expires during home storage, the product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly. That’s where your food safety handling techniques come into play.

Here are some food safety tips: If perishable, the food should be taken home immediately after purchase and refrigerated promptly. Freeze it if you can’t use it within times on the chart below.

Wash hands when handling foods. We are carriers of bacteria and can make others sick if we don’t wash our hands, especially if the food item we’re handling isn’t cooked.

Defrost foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Food can be contaminated and bacteria can grow.

Use clean cutting boards, countertops and cooking utensils to ensure ready-to-eat foods don’t become contaminated with raw meats or eggs.

Refrigerate leftover foods promptly. As soon as you finish a meal, put your leftovers in the refrigerator. Make sure the temperature in your refrigerator is 41 °F or colder. Put a piece of tape on the container and write the date on the tape. It’s best to use refrigerated leftovers within four days. If you won’t be eating your leftovers in that time, put them in the freezer where they will keep safely.

For best quality, store your foods for recommended times. Learn storage times for uncooked foods. Refrigerate poultry, ground meats and sausage for one to two days. Freeze if you haven’t used. Refrigerate beef, pork, veal and lamb for three to five days. Again, freeze for a later time if you haven’t cooked. Store cured ham (cook before heating) for five to seven days and eggs three to five weeks. For a complete storage chart, call our Penn State Extension or visit

Start reducing methane today. Pay attention to your food safety techniques and follow recommended practices. Stay tuned next week to find out more tips to reduce food waste.

Here’s a recipe that uses leftovers to make soup. The recipe uses leftover mashed potatoes, leftover hamburger and leftover spaghetti sauce and noodles. If you do not have leftovers, plan for them

Hearty beef soup

1/2 pound ground beef crumbled (leftover from hamburger dinner)

3 cups low sodium beef broth

2 cups mashed potatoes (leftover)

2 cups chopped cabbage

1/2 cup onion (chopped)

1 celery stalk

1 teaspoon garlic (finely chopped)

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon parsley (chopped, optional)

1/4 cup cooked macaroni (leftover from spaghetti dinner)

1 tomato (large, chopped, or 1 can, about 15 ounces, low-sodium diced tomatoes or 2 cups leftover spaghetti sauce)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Add broth, mashed potatoes, cabbage, onion, celery, garlic, and oregano. If using parsley, add that too. Mix well. Bring pot to a boil lower heat. Add ground beef, sauce and cooked macaroni and remaining ingredients. Cook for 20 minutes or until temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at