Learn How To Shop To Prevent Excess Food Waste

The key to wasting less could be shopping more.

September 23, 2015
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We’ve all been there.

You make your weekly, or perhaps monthly, trip to the grocery store and stock up on food. But you misjudge just how much you need and what you’ll actually eat. Then you’re put in the position of throwing away food that was perfectly good a week ago. Food you paid good money for. 

This is more common than you think. Each year, Americans waste an estimated 40 percent of food they’ve purchased. Family households are responsible for a significant portion of that waste. One study estimates that it’s the equivalent of throwing away $165 million a year. 

There’s a solution, but it might sound counterintuitive: Shop more. 

Victoria Ligon, a researcher at the University of Arizona, said most Americans only worry about how to limit food waste once they’ve already gone shopping. However, Ligon believes people need think more about potential waste before they go shopping–not after. 

In her research, Ligon tracked shopping and food preparation patterns, interviewed participants, and followed food diaries to gain greater insight into the mind of shoppers. It became evident that Americans aren’t shopping frequently enough. 

Americans tend to be price sensitive when it comes to food. That leads to many people buying groceries infrequently in bulk at stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco, and Sam’s Club. In other words, we’re just looking for the best deal.

Consequently, shoppers over-buy because they don’t tend to think about the cost of wasted food while shopping. A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted that food has become relatively cheap and available. So much so that many shoppers don’t think it’s a big deal if a little gets thrown out.

The $165 million figure indicates that it’s a very big deal, though. 

If you really want to eliminate waste, look to Europe. Across the pond, they have a market culture rather than a supermarket culture. People tend to shop for groceries every day or every other day.

Instead of stockpiling food that will potentially go bad, buy only what you’re going to eat that night or the next day. Go to the grocery store and see what looks good. Find produce that’s fresh and in-season. Swing buy the meat department and see what’s on sale. Typically, meat gets marked down significantly as it approaches its sell by date. That means savings for you!

The biggest obstacle to this sort of shopping is the perceived hassle. Why make five to seven trips to the store when I can make one? Well, stopping by the store for a few things is a lot different than lugging a cart around for an hour or more. If you’re only grabbing a few things, each trip should be relatively painless. 

Granted, this assumes you actually have time to spare before or after work each day. If you do, try changing your shopping routine for a week.

You may never step foot in a warehouse-style store again. 

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