Frozen food safety confusion linked to food waste

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Misconceptions about freezing food can lead to food waste , watchdog says. (Image from www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/frozen-food-safety-confusion-leading-to-tonnes-of-waste-watchdog-warns-a7119276.html)

Freezing food that is reaching expiry is a good practise to reduce food waste. However, a recent survey has shown that misconceptions about freezing and food safety can actually contribute to more food waste.

A UK watchdog organization surveyed 1,500 people, of which 43% assumed that food could only be frozen on the day it was purchased, when in fact it can be frozen up to (and often after) its best-before date. The survey also revealed that 38% of people surveyed believed that food is unsafe to refreeze after it has been cooked. However, this is not the case as food can be refrozen if it has been cooked thoroughly.

According to the BBC, frozen foods can be kept almost indefinitely, however, the quality of the food can deteriorate causing changes in texture and taste. Freezing food effectively pauses bacterial activity and once defrosted, it will spoil in the same way as before it was frozen since the levels of bacteria do not change during freezing. However, refrozen raw food could pose a health risk, as bacteria can multiply very fast after defrosting for a second time. As a result, Health Canada recommends that food be cooked the day of defrosting.

These knowledge gaps uncovered by the study are reflective of a lack of food storage and safety education in western society. Consumers often throw away food because they are wary and unsure of its quality. Studies like this will help to spread the facts of food safety and hopefully reduce health and safety related food waste!

You can read more about the study in the original BBC article here.

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ZeroFly storage

While in Canada the biggest portion of food waste comes from the household level, in much of the developing world most waste occurs before it even reaches the market or household. Part of the reason for this is  due to problems with storage. Grains and produce can be lost due to improper storage conditions causing spoilage, but also due to animals or insects. To combat insect pests, the Swiss company Vestergaard has created an innovative storage solution: the ZeroFly storage bag.

ZeroFlyStorageBagBrochureApril2015 1

The bag is polypropylene treated with an insecticide to stop insects from damaging agricultural products. While some may be hesitant about using an insecticidal bag,compared to other methods of preventing or killing pests, this bag leaves less pesticide residue while protecting the grain within from infestation. This product and similar innovations can potentially reduce losses for farmers, improving food security and decreasing food waste.

Find out more about the ZeroFly storage bags from Vestergaard.

Don’t create waste in your effort to curb food waste

Reducing food waste in the home often means learning to store foods in ways that they will keep longer, unfortunately this often means using foil, plastic wrap or other disposables or plastics in order to seal in freshness. So what are the alternatives? Reducing food waste isn’t that impressive if all you do is increase waste in another category. Of course there are glass jars and containers, but what about when you need a replacement for the ever so practical plastic cling wrap? Well one option would be these fun looking CoverBubbles.

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Or go the even greener DIY route and make your own alternative using fabric and beeswax. It’s easier and faster than you might think, and you can use it over and over again!

DIY food wrap

Instructions can be found at onegoodthingbyjillee.com

64% of food waste is preventable: Learn how you can prolong your food’s life!

This weekend, we shared food waste tips / tricks with visitors to Toronto’s Green Living Show. The number of stimulating conversations we had with folks floored us! We received countless requests to share the information more widely and accessibly by posting it online. So, in our devotion to you and in our mission to help you prevent food waste in your own kitchen, here are some tips our visitors found particularly useful!

We don’t know it all, so let’s continue this conversation: use the comments box for questions or to share your own tips. Tweet us ideas, and check out the links we include to other great resources.

@guelphfoodwaste @kjhodgins @KateParizeau @Mikevonmassow @RalphmartinOAC

 

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Vegetables

Herbs:

  • Pop in the freezer in bunches. They will last for months, and it’s just as easy to chop and use them from there as from the fridge where they will spoil very quickly.
  • If you do store herbs in the fridge, wrap them in a clean towel inside a bag to prevent them from wilting in their own moisture.

Cilantro: (most-frequently discussed topic at our GLS booth!)

  • This is one of the most challenging herbs to store, and especially troublesome because we generally want to eat it fresh, not frozen and then thawed! It will last longest if you stand it in a jar of water with a plastic bag placed loosely over the top.

Green Onions:

  • The greens rot quickly, so wrap a paper towel or clean cloth around them to absorb any moisture. This will extend their life for days or even weeks.
  • Instead of tossing the root end, pop it in a jar of water on the windowsill. It will drink and re-grow new greens for you!

Salad Greens (and prone-to-wilting kale)

  • Wash, then store inside thick shopping bags, tied up but keeping an air balloon inside. This gives them their own airy microclimate but keeps the plastic from resting against the leaves and creating too much moisture.
  • Crispers are generally a bit warmer than the other parts of the fridge, which is good. This will prevent delicate leaves from freezing
  • Segregate from fruits (especially apples) to keep greens fresher longer
  • I always wash my lettuce when I get it home, use one clean dishtowel to pat it mostly-dry, then wrap it loosely in another clean dishtowel, and slip that into a bag. They last for weeks this way, and I’ve done it for years!

Broccoli:

  • Keep away from gas-releasing fruits like apples, avocados, peaches, and tomatoes.
  • Keep it in the HIGH HUMIDITY drawer (lever closed, preventing air from coming in).
  • If you store it in plastic, make sure it’s breathable, or poke holes in the bag.
  • To freeze: 1. Wash thoroughly 2. Cut into pieces 3. Plunge into boiling water for three minutes and chill quickly in ice cold water 4. Drain off excess moisture and freeze in airtight containers or bags (this process is called blanching. Carrots, beans, cauliflower, kale, etc. can all be blanched and stored in the freezer)

Avocados:

  • Did you know you can freeze avocado puree?
  • Have you ever cut into an avocado to find it’s still not ripe? Just sprinkle some lemon juice on the flesh, put the halves back together, and it’ll continue to ripen.
  • More terrific tips on all-things-avocado!

Fruits

Apples:

  • One of the worst ethylene gas emitters! This gas speeds up the ripening process of other fruits, so store them separately from others.
  • Ethylene gas is worst when fruits are at room temperature, so to slow down ripening, refrigerate apples. On the other hand, if too firm or sour, let them ripen at room temperature. This is also why apples make poor neighbours in a fruit bowl on the counter. They are off-gassing ethylene to their fruit-bowl mates, making them all ripen quickly.
  • If you’d like to freeze apples: wash and core them, chop them up, and store them in bags or containers (indefinitely!).
  • If an apple gets a bad spot, the rest of the apple is not affected! You can cut around the bad spot and eat the rest, or cook it with your oatmeal, or make applesauce, or millions of other recipes.
  • Is it necessary to peel your apples? Peeling wastes the most nutritious part of the apple, your time, and your food!

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Bananas:

  • To speed ripening, put them in a brown paper bag. This will trap their ethylene gas and encourage them to ripen.
  • To stop them ripening, put them in the fridge—the skins will turn dark but the fruit is not harmed. You can also wrap the stem with a little plastic to prevent the release of ethylene gas.
  • Avoid putting unripe bananas in the fridge, as this will impede the early stages of ripening and spoil the fruit.
  • To freeze, mash with a tsp of lemon juice per cup of bananas to prevent browning.
  • What do you do with brown bananas? They are delightfully still edible! Just mash them, freeze them, and they are ready for use in smoothies, muffins, or fritters.
    • I told “Joe” at the show that I’d share a no-fail recipe for banana pancakes that even he could make: try this one, Joe, and let us know how it goes!

Dairy / Meat / Eggs

Cottage Cheese / Yogurt / Sour Cream:

  • Leave them in their container, and use only a clean spoon for scooping. Any bacteria on the spoon will make dairy go off quickly.
  • If you serve it in a separate dish but don’t use it all, don’t return it to the container, but cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap.
  • *Trick* Store the container upside-down to create an air-lock that will prevent bacteria from growing.

Cheese:

  • Does your hard cheese get mouldy before you reach the end of the block?
    • If so, once you open it, you should wrap it in wax paper to allow for breathing. Hard cheeses don’t actually love the store packaging they come in.
    • You can also freeze half the block if you won’t eat it quickly enough. It gets a bit crumbly after thawing, but its flavour remains! One lady told me she always stores her mozzarella in the freezer because it’s faster to crumble it onto pizza than to grate it!
  • Mould! If the cheese develops a blue-green mold on the exterior, make a cut about a ½ inch below the mold to ensure that it has been entirely removed; the remaining cheese will be fine. WHO KNEW!?

Milk:

  • If you don’t drink milk quickly, don’t store it in the doors where the fridge is warmest.
  • To save money, buy milk in bags and store them in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge when you are ready to use a bag.
  • Milk can be frozen for weeks. If it doesn’t thaw to perfect consistency, just stick it in the blender and it will be good as new!
  • If your milk is starting to get old, bake it in cakes and pancakes instead of tossing it.

FoodWaste Infographic_A (1)

Meat:

  • Keep meat where it is coldest (back of the fridge, and typically the bottom shelf—though your fridge may be different).
  • Avoid any accidental dripping onto foods by keeping a tray underneath it.
  • If you have a deep-freeze, meat will last and resist freezer burn a lot longer there than in your fridge freezer.

Eggs:

  • To test for freshness, pop an egg in a tall glass of water. If it floats, it is getting stale. Fresh eggs stay near the bottom. Even if stale, eggs are likely still safe – especially for baking. Eggs are only worth chucking when they start to exhibit an off odor.
  • If you are going on holiday and can’t eat all your eggs, freeze them before you leave! Beat and freeze in small containers (one or two eggs’ worth) for easy use later in cakes, quiches, and muffins. They’ll last 10 months!

Other tips

“Duh” reminders:

Seriously, we all forget about food, hiding shoved in the back of our fridges. These visual reminders work really well for my friends:

  • Leftovers / Eat First Bin
    • Keep a container at eye-level and place the items that need to be eaten promptly there. This is especially useful if sharing the fridge with a busy household where it’s easy to lose track of things, or if you have kids who are old enough to help themselves to snacks, but not yet old enough to be creative and make their own food and need some guidance.
  • Reminders on the Fridge Door:
    • To avoid forgetting about highly perishable items, use your grocery receipt to highlight perishable items that need to be used in a timely fashion. Stick it on the door to remind yourself about that punnet of blackberries shoved to the back, or that broccoli hiding under the lettuce.
    • Use a whiteboard to keep track of perishables, leftovers, or things you don’t want to forget before they spoil.
    • Keep labels and a marker beside the fridge to date leftovers, or to write “eat me!” notes on tupperwares for kids grabbing snacks.
  • Check the temperature of your fridge:
    • Keep fridge at 1-5ºC for optimum life of your products.
    • To test your fridge’s temperature, take a few measurements because it can fluctuate as it cycles through the day.
    • A cooler fridge uses slightly more energy; however, by increasing the lifespan of food products, the economic and environmental savings are statistically proven to be greater overall.

Finicky Creatures

Fridge-finicky:

Avocados, bananas, nectarines and peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes say:

“Only refrigerate me once I’m totally ripe! Too early, and I will lose moisture and flavour, and won’t ripen properly, even once brought back to room temperature.”

Ethylene Gas Emitters

Most fruits release ethylene gas which ripens produce. By keeping them in the fridge, you s l o w    t h i s    p r o c e s s   and extend their life.

Unless you want them to ripen faster, do not store fruits and veggies in airtight bags. That will hold in their gas, speeding up decay.

  • Particularly Bad Ethylene Emitters: apples, apricots, cantaloupes, figs, and honeydew. Keep separate from things you don’t want to ripen!

Those Confusing Best-Before Dates

Contrary to many assumptions, “Best Before” does not mean “Poisonous After.” In fact, these dates are only guidelines! See this handy infographic to help you understand their confusing formats.


Fall in love with your Freezer

Not a fan of leftovers for three days straight? Freeze in individual servings to grab for lunches on the run later in the week or month!

Going on holiday? Pop things in the freezer to save them from spoiling in your absence.

Grocery stores encourage us to “buy big” to benefit from lower cost-per-unit or 2-for-1 deals. Unfortunately, when we can’t eat it all in time and the food gets tossed, this is the opposite of a cost-saving!

  • If you buy your milk in bags, freeze them until you are ready to drink them;
  • If you buy a large cut of meat, freeze portions for later;
  • If you can’t make it through the whole loaf of bread, store it in the freezer and only take out a slice or two at a time as needed;
  • If you buy a whole squash but only need half for your recipe, cook and store the puree for later use in soup or baking

…Do you have a friendship with your freezer? Share other ideas with us!

What constitutes “inedible” in your house? Carrot / apple / potato peels? Beet or carrot greens? Cheese rinds? “Odd” cuts of meat or organs? Bones? These examples are all nutritious and delicious! Share with us your creative recipes or uses for the food that others might toss out!

With Food Waste, the Devil is in the Details

It is encouraging that we are seeing more and more discussion on food waste.  It is becoming a mainstream issue.  The challenge becomes making real progress on food waste.  I believe we spend too much time on diversion (but that’s my next blog post) but reduction is tough and we need to understand what we’re wasting and why we’re wasting it in order to make progress,  This has been a primary focus of our research.

Gooch et al (2014) make a substantial contribution in attempting to quantify the total value of food wasted in Canada.  Their 31 billion dollar number is staggering.  It is difficult for us as individual Canadians to conceive how we can make a contribution to reducing that number.  Making the numbers relevant to individuals provides, in my opinion, the impetus for motivating real change at the household level.

We’re fortunate to have municipal partners in York Region and the City of Guelph who are interested in the details – in understanding what volume is wasted, what is in the waste and what factors contribute to that waste.  This work is ongoing and we will be back in the field again this summer.  If you’re interested the first academic publication is out (Parizeau, K., von Massow, M., & Martin, R. (2015). “Household-level dynamics of food waste production and related beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours in a municipality in Southwestern Ontario,” Waste Management. 35.) but I thought I’d just summarize some of the key findings in that and new research.  These details are the key to motivating reduction.  More work is critical to building that understanding.

We found that the households we evaluated threw out more than 4 kgs of food a week.  Part of the problem is that many of us don’t realize how much we throw out.  About a third of that is unavoidable – trim, banana peels and coffee grounds for example.  That means two thirds is aoidable or at least partially avoidable (that distinction is also a future blog post).  Half of the total (and more than 60% of the avoidable) are fruits and vegetables which means we are throwing out a significant volume of some of the healthiest stuff in our kitchens.  This is clearly some of the product that is hardest to keep fresh but food skills and planning can likely quite easily reduce this volume.  This worth understanding and adds insight to reduction efforts.

We also asked households to complete a survey.  We found that both food awareness and waste awareness (separately) reduced the amount of waste.  Waste awareness is simply a consciousness of and concern about waste.  If you think about it you throw less out.  That makes sense.  Food awareness is simply thinking about food.  The more you think about it and value it, the less likely you are to throw it out.

Much of the communication around food waste diversion and reduction is couched in an environmental context – highlighting the environmental costs and impacts of both production and landfilling food waste.  We found that, while environment does matter, economic and social (food security) implications are more resonant for these households relative to food waste.  It is clear that understanding the specific details of what is wasted and why is critical to making real progress on food waste reduction.  We’re excited to be doing this work.

Stay tuned to this blog as more details become available.

Apologize to your food

Minute Earth has created a video documenting a love letter (that is actually more of an apology letter) to our food.  The message is simple: love your food, don’t waste it. Check out the video and think about what kind of letter you might write to your own food:

Support for this video was provided by the University of Minnesota’s Food Policy Research Center, who have also created an issue brief entitled “Food Loss and Waste in the US: The Science Behind the Supply Chain“:

http://www.foodpolicy.umn.edu/policy-summaries-and-analyses/food-loss-and-waste-us-science-behind-supply-chain