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Sadly, about 30-50% of the Western world's food is thrown away. Personally, I waste about half of my food, due to poor fridge management. I forget what I have bought and find expired food located in the back of the fridge all the time. It's very annoying from a time perspective, as I have to waste time (and money) by replenishing the things I throw away.

How can I manage my fridge's contents better? What's considered best practice?

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6 Answers

Here are some tips I find useful:

  • don't buy food once in two weeks for the whole fortnight, instead go shopping more often and buy food for several days in smaller quantities (that doesn't have anything to do with products that don't get expired like salt, sugar,porridge etc, here you better stock up);
  • create yourself a draft week menu and plan what you are going to cook during the next two days; this helps avoid buying food that you won't eat at all;
  • put a note with your current ideas of what to cook on the fridge; you may also write yourself a note like "Have you drunk you daily glass of milk yet?" or "Vegetables are beneficial for your health" and so on, which will remind you that you need to eat/drink products that get expired;
  • browse the net for interesting recipes that require some of your soon-to-be-expired ingredients, write them down/print them and put on your kitchen desk/table/fridge/wherever you will see them often.
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So I’ve just put a system in place for this, it appears to be working okay. My plan was to reduce the amount of food that goes bad in the fridge, and, as a secondary goal, to eat a wider variety of foods and make sure that I washed up after myself and so on.

What makes this easy is that I have a favourite pan, I do pretty much all my cooking in my favourite pan:

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I took my pan and I hung it in a cupboard some distance away from the kitchen, and to make sure I didn’t subconsciously think I’d just left it there by mistake I anchored it in with a little rubber band:

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I also made two lists, one for things that I must do before I go and get the pan and one for when I put the pan back.

The one for before I take the pan includes such things as:

  • Look though the fridge and plan a meal using the food going off soonest. (I used to decide what I wanted to eat before opening the fridge, which is a very bad habit.)
  • Make sure that you have containers available for storing leftovers. (I had/have a bad habit of making enough food for several days and then absent-mindedly eating it all that evening.
  • Make sure that you have out all your ingredients before starting cooking (prevents me from finding out that I had to go shopping halfway though cooking.
  • Leave house keys on hook (this means that I always remember to put the pan next to the list afterwards).

This has vastly reduced the amount of food I waste, it’s reduced the amount of energy I waste (no more getting quite a long way into cooking without finding I was missing a key ingredient, and given me a more balanced and better organised diet — there’s much less time spent on cooking because I’ve been able to have more leftover lunches and I've been able to pre-soak a lot more things to reduce cooking. It’s been really effective.

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Apparently a lot can be done. Fridge triage boxes look like a good idea:

Triage boxes

Tracking what's inside the fridge with dry-erase decals also seem good, but probably takes a lot of time to manage properly. Keeping your fridge uncluttered is definitely good.

Grouping similar food types together in a refrigerator to increase the awareness of available foods has scientifically been shown to be useful.

An article provides great tips:

Practice FIFO. It stands for First In, First Out. When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of the fridge/freezer/pantry and put new products in the back. This way, you’re more likely to use up the older stuff before it expires.

Understand expiration dates. Turns out those expiration dates don’t always have to do with food safety; rather, they’re usually manufacturers’ suggestions for peak quality. If stored properly, most foods (even meat) stay fresh several days past the “use-by” date. If a food looks, smells, and tastes okay, it should be fine. If any of these elements are off, then it’s time to toss it.

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Here is what I do. I throw very little away if I am managing the food. This can keep waste down well below what people consider waste. It takes some trial and error to get right (no onion skins can't go in the stock bag and neither can squash skins), and those can be costly in terms of throwing stuff away but once you get it, this leads to hyper-efficiency in terms of food (throwing away less than people would if they ate everything they cooked).

  1. Focus on fewer more re-usable ingredients as your staples. These include things like onions, cabbage, and other relatively long-keeping vegetables (onions don't need to be refridgerated, cabbage can last a long time in the fridge). Buy many other things when you need them (like meat). This gives you fresher food and better awareness of what is in the fridge. My own primary staples tend to be beans (various kinds, dry), cabbage, onions, garlic and garlic. I try to keep all of these around all the time. I tend to buy tomatoes when I want to use them. Keep in mind if I am by myself I can go through cabbage between one head in a couple of days to one head in two weeks, so having two heads of cabbage in my fridge is usually a good thing since it keeps well. Other things like tomatoes, other veggies, meat (when I don't have it in my freezer from local farm purchases), etc. I buy for the meal I want to cook. This means shopping every few days.

  2. Rely on the freezer more for left overs. This lets you cook larger batches and re-heat when you want to. I frequently cook 10 to 15 meals worth of food at once. Some of it goes in the freezer. Sometimes I eat it for a week, but if you rely on your freezer you don't have to eat it for a week.

  3. Keep a stock bag in the freezer. In it goes onion and vegetable ends (but not lots of skins), bones, cooked meat leftovers I don't get to within a week, etc. When it gets full, I put it in a pot with water and boil to make a broth. The remains go into the compost, and the stock goes into the freezer.

What I find is that if more of my fridge is used for staples, and less is used for short term ingredients, I throw a lot less away. I also eat a lot more cabbage and that can't be bad..... I also cook less frequently and rely on leftovers more. The freezer can be used to enforce variety.

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+1 for the stock bag in the freezer –  Joe May 1 '13 at 14:14
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The report provides only raw numbers, without the information about the particular reasons for throwing food away. But according to my knowledge about patterns promoted in the media and observations of my acquaintances, only a small part of it is the food that is actually spoiled. Most of that is thrown away because the expiry date is reached, someone has cooked too much or, most trivially, is bored with some food and doesn't want to finish it.

My tips and recommendations are:

1) Never buy too much. Learn how much you are able to eat and how much do you need to buy. Don't improvise in shop.

2) Don't throw food away just because expiry date is reached. Note that the expiry date is made only to remove liability from producers and it's calculated for the most pessimistic scenario of keeping the product (too high temperature, exposition to light etc.). I've eaten a lot of products months, and in some cases (products in cans or jars) even years after the expiry date, and I never had problems because of it.

3) Be disciplined. If you prepare something, eat it to the end. If you can't eat more, wait an hour. If you still can't eat more, store it in fridge. Never throw something away even if the potato cooked the previous day doesn't taste as good as one cooked right now.

4) In case of products that spoil very quickly in kitchen, such as fruits and vegetables, buy them regularly and in small portions that you can eat within 1 - (max) 3 days.

5) Dry bread can be powdered and used for chops or some other meal.

6) Sweet fruits that are rotten but not moldy can be used to prepare a hooch. In worst case it can be used as fuel.

7) Cheese or sausages that don't smell well, but don't stink, can be eaten if you fry them. In outdoor camps, if we find something that isn't looking very well after a few days in the rucksack, we fry that in campfire, without negative consequences.

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There was a period in my life when I almost only used a freezer, and barely used the fridge. I extensively used the microwave oven. This worked out well, and I did not waste food.


how [...] freezer and microwave helped you to not waste food?

Compared to the fridge in the freezer foods had a much longer lifetime. Freezing them obviously changed the consistency of many and even the taste of a few kinds. But thawing went quick and easy with the microwave.

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Welcome to Sustainable Living! Could you elaborate how the freezer and microwave helped you to not waste food? –  THelper May 8 '13 at 8:49
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@THelper: I included my answer to you into the above text. –  winerd May 8 '13 at 20:35
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You didn't wasted food but doesn't using a freezer plus a microwave often instead of using normally a fridge consumed more energy? Plus, microwave isn't always good for heating food. So, now it's just a matter of knowing what is the best or the less worse. Does wasting food is more problematic (or costly) than using more electricity? etc –  JeromeJ May 13 '13 at 19:43
    
@JeromeJ: Yes, there are pros and cons. There may be situations where this is a good method, and situations where other methods are much better. –  winerd May 14 '13 at 9:02
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