Friday, November 30, 2012

Does Bulk Buying Lead to More Food Waste?

Here I am with the first weekly check-in of my Holiday Food Waste Challenge!

This was a good week in food-waste land in our house. The only thing I tossed was about 1 1/2 very small potatoes that had spoiled in the bag. Considering the huge volume of food that goes through our house, I think that's pretty good! I don't have a pic as the casualties occurred on a night I was trying to get things done in the kitchen extra quick.

One thing I keep reading in articles about food waste is that the trend to buying larger quantities of food to save money is leading to increased food wastage. As someone who is an advocate for the bulk-buying approach to food shopping, I don't think that bulk buying itself is necessarily the problem. I think it's a combination of two things: buying the WRONG foods in bulk and improper food storage/food management techniques in the home.

I buy quite a few foods in HUGE quantities (think 12 kilogram bags of oats, coconut and raisins). I haven't wasted any of them to date. Why? Because they are stored securely in the freezer until I'm going to use them. I keep small quantities in containers in the kitchen for easy access and simply refill them from the freezer stash as needed. Since I have 4 hungry people at my house, even these large quantities of staples are used up fairly quickly (the oats we go through in 3-4 months, the raisins about 6-9 months and the coconut about a year).

Where I think the problem lies is in people buying huge amounts of highly perishable items like salad greens, prepared hummus and the like. This stuff has a very short shelf life, and unless you're feeding an army you're not likely to finish them off before they disintegrate into mush in the bottom of the crisper. Another related issue is buying infrequently-eaten foods in huge quantities. If you're only eating something once a month, you don't need to purchase several kilograms of it at a time!

Produce in general can be tricky to manage well. I know it can be hard during the growing season not to overbuy when there are a lot of great deals out there. If you're properly prepared with freezer space and canning supplies, much produce wastage can be avoided by freezing and canning these items while they're still good and fresh (and then you'll have a wonderful stash for the winter months). This does take a bit of planning and forethought, but it's certainly not difficult.

Finally, it's important to keep reasonably good tabs on your food stash. Make sure you're using the food that's been in your pantry and freezer the longest before you start in on more recently purchased items. A good way to do this is to have one week every few months where you "eat from the stash" and try to use up all the odds and ends that have been hanging around a while (this helps get your grocery bill for the month down, too!) I always try to make sure that more recently purchased items go at the back of the pantry cupboard and the bottom of the freezer, keeping the older items front and centre. Of course, this not being a perfect world (and sharing a house with 3 other people who might not be as attentive to these details as I am), this doesn't always happen so the "eating from the stash" routine helps keep us on track.

Do you think you waste more foods when you buy in bulk? If you're joining me in the Food Waste Challenge, how was your food wastage this week?

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  1. Unfortunately, we wasted 3 types of amazing cheese which made me so sad and so mad at myself! They were leftovers from a family gathering and the ferry line was unexpectedly long, so we sat there an hour longer than we had planned for. I was stupid and didn't think to pack a cooler or even take a bag of ice from my sister's house to keep the items cool on the way home. This meant the food was without refrigeration too long, and I didn't want to risk us getting sick. Aargh. Lesson learned, for sure! Ah, that beautiful French brie and an expensive gorgonzola that I wouldn't usually treat myself to...sigh.

    1. Oh no!!! What a total bummer :( I would be devastated too since I don't splurge on fancy stuff like that very often.


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