Food Waste: how Can we Use Technology to Spend, Store and Eat in a Smart Way?

In the US, food waste remains a major issue. About $218 billion worth of food is being discarded every year and close to 21 percent of landfill volume is food waste, based on the data recently published by a nonprofit organization based in Chicago- “Feeding America” which has a country-wide network of more than 200 food banks that feed close to 50 million people. When we waste food, its not that we are wasting just that, but we end up wasting along with it- labor, inputs and natural resources, along with the ability to share or donate food that is otherwise perfectly good to eat.

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A report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council says that Americans alone waste about 40 % of food, which compares to more than 10 times as much food as needed for a less developed country in Southeast Asia. Fixing this serious wasteful trend could possibly feed all the undernourished people more than twice-over.

Technology can play a key role in helping the general consumers as well as the retailers to recover and reduce this from happening such as Apps on mobile devices along with collection of public data for effective logistics on food production and consumption. Apart from creating temporary solutions, these smart technology applications can be used to help create a permanent culture in which retailers and individuals donate surplus food, to families in need so that they receive perfectly good delicious and nutritious food that would otherwise end up in landfills.

Before we can start to use some of the attractive tools that are available in this digital information era, we need to first understand the main reasons leading to food waste. Most often, our behavior towards spending, consumption and storage of food have (Information Source: Wrap organization – material change for better environment) been the main reasons that cause this situation.

Most of the leading causes listed on the chart can easily be controlled or eliminated based on simple change in our attitude towards buying, storing and eating our food in a smart way using technology. This publication highlights the important habits and smart ways that can be used to reduce food waste as much as possible.

Better planning

While it could certainly be tedious to sit down to plan our meals for the week before going out to the grocery store, it can be very helpful in reducing food waste. When you know exactly what you should be buying for all your needs, its less likely to make faulty food decisions and buy things we end up not eating at all. You will also have a much better idea on how to use all the perishables like fresh fruits and veggies before they spoil.
Reducing food waste starts with smart shopping. Adopt these shopping habits to avoid overbuying at the grocery store.

A well planned and mindful shopping are key to avoiding wasted food. By making a list with the weekly meals in our mind, you can certainly save money by wasting less food, time and may also eat healthier food.

Check out these tips:

  • Make your shopping list using your smart phone, based on the need: how many meals can you and your family eat at home and the timing of your next grocery shopping trip. Will you eat out this week? Be realistic.
  • Look into your fridge and cupboards first before shopping, to avoid buying food you already have on hand. There are “Smart Fridges” available these days, that scans and sends images of fridge content to our mobile phones.
  • Include the quantities on your shopping list to make sure you buy ONLY what you need. For fresh items, note how many meals you will make with each. For example, Strawberries and greens – enough for two breakfasts and lunches.
  • Buy ALL fresh ingredients in smaller quantities more often so you waste less and enjoy fresher ingredients.
  • Don’t fall for marketing gimmicks with multi-packs such as “you get 10 items for $10 “and end up only eating half of it before they spoil.
  • Choose to buy fruit and vegetables in loose, rather than pre-packaged, so that you control the quantity you need and ensure fresher ingredients.

More focused shopping

Its always better to have an idea of kind of food items to buy and avoid, before heading to the grocery store. Imagine this scenario: You are running to the store after work and suddenly realize that you left your list at home. Instead of simply standing in the grocery store aisle wondering how much milk or bread you have left, you can use your phone as your personal grocery shopping assistant. The newest and latest grocery shopping list apps such as “Foodfully” and “Grocery Pal” take out all the work for you. They inspire thoughtful consumption of food before its expiration date. These days, Apps such as these help to connect several grocery stores in the U.S. and link them with their loyalty cards. Every time a user makes a purchase with a loyalty card, the App records the transaction. They can also scan receipts and record manually entered purchases. Users manage their food items on the App by entering them in the fridge and freezer, deleting the consumed ones, and throwing food away.
These food shopping apps also help to arrange items by perishable dates and sends the user notifications before they go bad. On top of this, they also suggest recipes based on what is available in the user’s fridge.

Increased shelf life

There are several food preservation methods recommended by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, that also highlights processes such as pickling, drying, canning, and freezing to preserve food and add more flair to them in the process. This can be especially helpful to get the most out of your fresh tomatoes or apples from your home garden before they go to waste. It is also a great way to get creative with fruits and vegetables, while at the same time, giving your diet some more diversity. Before the fresh raspberries have a chance to mold, freeze them for pies or smoothies later. Also, utilize a good sale on apples to make dried apple rings you can snack on throughout the day. Always seek out information published on the internet by many NGOs about ways to preserve food and increase their shelf life.

Optimal storage

Not properly utilizing your pantry, fridge and freezer can lead to food waste. Setting your fridge at the ideal temperature (40 degrees or below to prevent bacterial growth) can help along with arranging your fridge shelves for optimal safety and freshness. You need to know which items can be stored in the fridge door where the temperature is warmest. Keeping your food fresh and safe is a great way to reduce waste. Proper food handling can also help improve your health by preventing sickness. Using information guides published online by the FDA could be a good starting point to make sure optimal food storage conditions are maintained in the fridges and freezers.

Portion control

These days, filling up those big refrigerators at home means buying more food. Most of the shopping baskets are on wheels today so they are easier to roll after you buy food that you actually don’t need. Along with these, the size of the food packs available such as the “Super Packs”, “Mega Packs” and steep discounts based on volume are just another food waste trap.

When we cook at home, we tend to make much more food than people can actually eat because we fear not having enough food for the family or guests. To avoid cooking too much food, always cook 30% less than you usually do, it will target just the right amount of food for your guests.

Use smaller plates and dishes. If the plate size is reduced by just <10 %, the food waste can be reduced by over 25%. Furthermore, researchers have found that we don’t even notice when we eat portions that are 20% smaller. By reducing the size of the plate, you ensure that you don’t overfeed yourself or the trash bin.

Track the amount of food to buy and eat-Set goals on food amount using Food Tracker Apps such as “fooducate” to help yourself maintain good health.

Choose smaller shopping carts and shopping baskets. In the supermarket, make sure to choose smaller shopping cars when possible to avoid buying too much. If the shopping basket is on wheels, it may make sense to still carry it by hand. The bigger the shopping cart and shopping basket is, the more you will be tempted to fill it up with food that you don’t need.

Ask yourself if you really need the big packs and bulk discounts. If you have a large family or are hosting a large gathering, they may make sense. Otherwise, it might not be the best idea. And all that money saved from buying in bulk disappears when you don’t eat a significant amount of those foods.

Ingredients Usage

One of the best things about cooking your own food is you can end up choosing your own recipes to your liking, adding new flavors and ingredients. Including parts of foods that aren’t usually used is an excellent way to repurpose scraps when you’re experimenting in the kitchen and thereby reduce wasting them.

Handling “leftovers”

Often, chances are the food you have leftover from the dinner tonight will still be just as good tomorrow. Also, you can also change them up to make a new meal. You can end up using those cooked veggies from dinner into a tortilla with beans for a burrito at lunch the next day. If you buy or make something, try to eat all of it and resist the urge to toss is. This is where having good food storage options also helps.

Routinely go through your pantry to check dates on your canned beans, dry pasta, and soups. If you think there will be food going as waste, find a local food bank and ask about their policies on what they will accept for donations as well as their rules around expiration dates. Donating your food is a much better social and environmental choice than throwing away food or letting it decay away in the back of your pantry.

As an example, in New York City, a mobile tech service called as “goMkt” connects restaurants that have unsold food with customers looking for discounts. By purchasing food as take-out through the app, customers save up to 75 percent off the original price and thereby reduce potential food waste. Another example is a tech service in Atlanta, “Goodr” that picks up excess food from businesses and delivers it to nonprofits. Often, restaurants, catering, and events companies end up with a lot of leftover food, but rarely have the time to make donations, so surplus food ends up in landfills. These technology service companies allow businesses to schedule food pick-ups while also generating revenue for them.

The Bottom Line

Not only will the practical tips in this publication help you waste less food, but they may also save you money and time as well. By thinking more about the food your household wastes every day, you can help create positive change to conserve some of the earth’s most valuable resources. Even minimal changes to the way you shop, cook, and consume food will help reduce your impact on the environment.
It doesn’t have to be difficult with the use of technology. With only a small amount of effort, you can cut your food waste dramatically, save money and time, and help take some pressure off the big task of feeding an ever-increasing global population.

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