PITTSBURGH (CBS) — We’ve all been there, buy a bunch of food at the start of the week, only to toss it once it spoils. It’s so bad, studies say we waste 40 percent of the food supply. The average family of four spends $1,500 a year on food we throw away. We found four simple ways to stretch your dollar.
Take a look at Jacqui Blasiak-Wisner’s refrigerator. She’s a busy working wife and mother of two, who said she’d like to not throw so much food away.
“I would say maybe a bag a week of produce, bread or leftovers that were never eaten,” Blasiak-Wisner said.
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JoAnne Berkenkamp is with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit that helped launch a campaign to save food and protect the environment in the process.
Berkencamp wastes no time getting to our first step to save: Plan Ahead. There’s no better place to do that than the grocery store.
“Am I buying for five nights or am I really buying for two or three nights?” Berkencamp said.
She says we should never go without first looking at what we have and writing down what we need.
“That allows you to go with a list and focus on the things that you really want to purchase and will use,” she said.
It’s the lettuce shelves she says that often get shoppers in the most trouble.
“I think it’s one of the things we tend to overbuy the most,” Berkencamp said.
She calls it aspiration shopping, something Jacqui is guilty of. To solve it, buy food with multiple uses, like spinach that you’re able to put in other meals.
“It will cook down very quickly in about two or three minutes and it’s a great way to use a lot of salad greens really, really quickly,” she said.
One expert says planning ahead shouldn’t stop at the store.
“I’ll purchase things like peppers and celery, bring it home and right away I wash it up and I cut it. Then, I’ve got pepper strips, I’ve got celery sticks ready to go,” she said.
Berkenamp knows we’re much more likely to eat readily available food. Which brings us to tip No. 2: Store your food properly.
“The way you store your food will really influence how long it lasts for you. There are some things that belong in the refrigerator and there are some things that belong on the shelf,” Berkencamp said.
She flags one in Jacqui’s refrigerator right away.
“Tomatoes are fine in the fridge but they’re actually better if you leave them on the counter. You’ll get the sweetest flavor if they’re not refrigerated,” she reminded us.
Berkencamp also believes avocados are best left out. If they go into the refrigerator, they stop ripening.
“So if you buy it and it’s a little bit harder keep it on the shelf until you like it and then it can go in the fridge,” she said.
Bottom line: fruits and vegetables do best if they can breathe.
“Something like baby carrots they’re okay in plastic but they’ll actually last longer if you put them in a bowl of water,” Berkencamp says pointing to Jacqui’s fridge.
We should also pay attention to where we put certain products in the fridge.
“The back of your fridge is the coolest so you’ll want to have perishable things like milk toward the back,” she said.
Less perishable items like condiments are best kept in a line on the door. Refrigerator temperature also plays a role in keeping our food lasting the longest. Berkencamp says we should get a refrigerator thermometer to check for a reading between 36 to 38 degrees.
“It shows kind of cooler and coldest it has some numbers sometimes it’s hard to know what temperature that really represents,” Berkencamp said.
“Your refrigerator needs to be below 40 degrees,” she added.
“Thirdly, think about creative ways to use up leftovers and things you need to use quickly.”
This tip should have us thinking of soup and crockpot recipes. Berkencamp says something as simple as cooking mushrooms right away will mean they’ll have a better chance of being eaten.
Our last tip takes us to the deep freeze.
“Your freezer’s really an ally when it comes to keeping your food in good shape so you can make the most of your food dollar,” Berkencamp said.
“When you have food that can’t be used fast enough most foods can be frozen,” she reminded us.
Milk, sour cream and most fruits and veggies can all be frozen.
“Bread is also nice because it freezes well and it thaws quickly,” she said.
Four tips that help us make the most of our food and our money.
“I would guess your family could come up with some other use for $1,500,” Berkencamp said to Jacqui.
When you do throw something out Berkencamp suggests taking a good look at it and think about what it is and why am I throwing it out before it goes down the disposal and into the trash.
For more information on how to plan your food purchases, better store your food and use your leftovers, go to SaveTheFood.com.