UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – As food prices skyrocket – and many people struggle with food insecurity – how can consumers avoid wasting food this holiday season?
âStart planning now,â said Martin Bucknavage, senior food security extension associate at Penn State’s. College of Agricultural Sciences. “How much food will you need to feed your group?” How are you going to make the best use of leftovers? “
Research at Penn State suggests that American households waste, on average, nearly a third of the food they buy, costing more than $ 1,800 per year per household. This waste has implications for health, food safety, food marketing and climate change, the researchers say.
Bucknavage acknowledged that the holidays put pressure on the home cook. Instead of cooking for three or four, the host can cook for 20. People want to have a lot of food available to guests, and it can be difficult to know how much people are going to eat. Overcooking often results in wasted food if there is no plan for using it.
But with careful thought and planning, the home cook can serve their guests a wonderful meal and avoid wasting food.
Bucknavage urged those who prepare meals to save leftover food soon after the meal is finished. It can be tempting to relax with guests instead of dealing with leftovers. After all, the hard work of the kitchen is over. But leftovers that linger on the counter or kitchen table create food safety concerns.
Research has shown that bacteria can grow quickly at temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 F. Food safety guidelines advise discarding perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left behind. at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerating foods promptly after a meal reduces the risk of foodborne illness.
Protein, especially meat, is expensive items with a limited shelf life, Bucknavage noted. Unfortunately, these items are often wasted when not handled in time. Cooked turkey only lasts three to four days in the refrigerator.
To use leftovers, Bucknavage encourages people to get creative. Make other products, like a savory soup or casserole, from that leftover ham or turkey, he suggested. Another option is to freeze leftovers quickly.
âIt will only last a very long time in the fridge, but placing leftovers in the freezer gives the cook more time to use them,â Bucknavage said. Use freezer-safe ziplock bags and remove the air before storing leftovers in the freezer.
Leftovers are often forgotten or buried in the freezer. Bucknavage recommended that people make a plan for using these items.
âOnce it goes into the freezer, the quality will not be maintained forever,â he said. âYou can keep it for about three months. The sooner you use it, the better.
He suggested labeling the container with the item’s name and date, so people can easily track what they have in the freezer and when to use it.
Donating food is another possibility, Bucknavage said. Bringing food to someone in need is both kind and lasting because the food will be enjoyed instead of thrown away.
Bucknavage said he often got calls from people asking, “Can I still use [these leftovers]? âUnfortunately, by the time someone asks this question, food may be unsafe or, more likely, not as good as it could have been if used better.
He encouraged people to think proactively. âInstead of asking, ‘How long can I use my food?’ ask “How can I use my food sooner?” ” “, did he declare.
Having a solid plan is most important, according to Bucknavage. âA plan could prevent you from buying and cooking too much food, and it could also help you use the food you prepare,â he said.
To avoid finding slimy turkey in the fridge, visit the Pennsylvania State Extension website for a wealth of food safety tips and resources.