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On Your Table Blog

November 29, 2021

Reduce food waste this holiday season

Reduce food waste this holiday season

by Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D.

“Mom, what if raw meat juice dripped on a pear in my fridge?” my daughter asked in a text. “If I wash it, will it be safe to eat?”

I like when my young adult children finally think I know something.

I thought about the potential organisms that might be in the meat juice. Meat juice could contain Salmonella or E. coli, for example.

In some cases, ingesting just 10 cells of a microorganism can make you extremely ill. Sometimes foodborne illnesses can be fatal or have lifelong health consequences.

Could the juice have permeated the peeling through a blemish or cut and entered the fruit? Maybe or maybe not. If the juice entered the flesh of the fruit, you cannot “wash it away.”

Was eating the raw pear worth the risk?

My daughter probably was wondering why I was not immediately returning her text.

“Rinse it well under running water, and then cook it by poaching it in boiling water or baking. You need to heat it to kill the bacteria,” I recommended.

Poaching is a method of simmering food in a small amount of liquid so the food cooks by steaming. A poached pear with cinnamon sauce is quite tasty.

“In the future, be sure to put the thawing meat in a pan and put it under ready-to-eat fruits in the refrigerator,” I added.

I guess my daughter threw the pear. I should have texted her a poached pear recipe.

Cooking kills microorganisms. We recommend cooking food to different temperatures based on the most common organisms found in the meat and the temperature at which the organism is killed.

None of us wants to waste food, especially during the present time with increased food costs. We also do not want to get sick from the food we are trying to “save.”

Unfortunately, 40% of food produced in the U.S. is wasted, and the average consumer throws away 1.1 pounds of food every day. That adds up to more than 400 pounds of wasted food per person every year.

National studies of municipal solid waste (such as the city’s dump ground) have shown that food accounts for more than 20% of total waste. Food waste accounts for more than plastic (18%), paper (15%), rubber (12%) and wood (8%).

We in nutrition usually recommend eating more fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables make up about one-third of food lost through spoilage and discarding.

As we enter a season of family gatherings and increased food costs, here are some tips from leading experts in avoiding food waste.

  • Be aware of how much food you throw away. How much food waste is in your trash? Could you have saved it by freezing the food or incorporating it into a recipe earlier in the week?
  • Consider buying less of the items you typically throw away. Sometimes, buying the economy size is not the better buy.
  • Put a list on your fridge of the perishable foods you should eat in a short time. Do the grapes, strawberries, bread or cheese begin to mold before you eat them?
  • Plan meals a week at a time. Write down the foods you need on a shopping list, then check your fridge and cupboards to see what you already have on hand.
  • Avoid impulse buys. If samples are offered at the grocery store, you might be tempted to buy the food. If you buy, be sure to incorporate the food into your menus.
  • Put a “use by” date on your leftovers with a sticky note or piece of tape. Perishable leftovers should be consumed within three or four days of preparation.
  • Consider food preservation all year. Freezing is one of the easiest methods to use, if you have the freezer storage space available. Search online for “NDSU Extension Food Freezing Guide” for a free resource.

Julie Garden-Robinson, is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.