SALT LAKE CITY – Smarter food shopping and planning can help address not only what Utah families spend on groceries, but the larger issues of world hunger and the growing global demand for food. Professor Jon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, said huge investments have been made to increase food production, but not enough is being done to reduce the amount of food that has simply being wasted.
“We’ve spent billions and billions of dollars trying to get crops to grow faster, to improve yields,” Foley said, “and globally, crop production has only increased about 20 percent in the last 20 years, despite all those efforts. And here’s 40 percent of the world’s food sitting around rotting.”
The average American family throws away about 20 pounds of food a month, worth $300 to $500 a year, he added, with the biggest losses in meat and seafood.
One place where food costs and purchasing make a daily difference between profit and loss is in the catering business. Maxine Turner, president of Cuisine Unlimited Catering, Salt Lake City, says her company does not buy any ingredient that cannot be used at least three ways. Even at home, she shops for no more than one week’s worth of groceries at a time. Planning meals makes it easier to avoid impulse buys, Turner explained.
“That helps in guiding the amount of food being purchased, and you’re going back to that three-way usage,” she said. “You also have much more flexibility at a home than we do in our catering operation to use those leftover products.”
Caterers must keep careful track of their inventory. Turner advises home cooks to also keep a running list of what is in their freezer, to avoid buying duplicates. She also recommends using a vacuum sealer. Removing air and moisture from packaging adds one to three months of shelf life to many foods, she said.
“We use this for not just things that are frozen or freezable, like sauces and things where we have prepared too much,” said Turner. “It’s absolutely marvelous for the shelf life of things like cheese.”
About two-thirds of food waste is from spoilage, so she suggests planning meals around the ingredients already on hand.
More information about minimizing food waste is online at <a href=”http://www.nrdc.org/living/eatingwell/files/foodwaste_2pgr.pdf” target=”parent”>www.nrdc.org</a>.