by David Goldstein and Tobie Mitchell

Food waste is a regretful loss in Ventura County, where, before the pandemic, 16.6 percent of the population was food-insecure, according to the website of Food Share, our local food bank. Yet, Californians were throwing away nearly 6 million tons of food scraps each year, representing about 18 percent of all the material going to landfills, according to the website of the California Department of Resources Recovery and Recycling (CalRecycle). Not only is food waste a loss of resources, it also creates methane emissions, a “significant source of greenhouse gas emissions” according to CalRecycle.

Now, with people buying more during each shopping trip so they do not have to return to stores as often, there is more potential for waste from food spoilage. The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders offers valuable tips to reduce food waste, and the website Savethefood.com, created by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council, offers an interactive food storage guide enabling users to search for the food of their choice and see optimal storage recommendations for when the item is freshest, and what to do to “revive” food after it passes the point of freshness. 

These guides provide some sensible tips. For example, the bottom shelf is the coldest spot in the fridge and should be reserved for meat, poultry and fish. Slightly warmer upper shelves are an appropriate place to store drinks, leftovers, yogurt, eggs, dips and sauces. Produce drawers usually have levers to adjust humidity. Vegetables prone to wilting should be placed in the high humidity drawer. Fruits and vegetables prone to rotting, such as peppers and mushrooms, should be placed in a low humidity drawer. The door of the fridge is the warmest place, so avoid keeping eggs, milk and other dairy items in the door. 

Jill Santos, coordinator of Waste Free VC, which assists food recovery networks, offered additional tips to extend the life of items in a refrigerator: Cut stems of herbs, and put ends in a small cup of water. Use the acid from squeezed citrus to preserve other fruit slices. Do not wash produce before refrigerating, as added moisture speeds decay. Turn stale bread into savory bread pudding and use wilted veggies in blended soups.

The Ventura County Integrated Waste Management Division, adapting material from Gunders’ book and other sources, produced a brochure titled “Taste it, don’t waste it.” The brochure places 18 fruits and vegetables on a vertical axis, and in four columns along a horizonal axis are tips for how long each item may be kept fresh in a refrigerator, what preparatory steps should be taken before freezing each item for storage, how each item can best be stored, and how each item can be revived for consumption after it gets to the point where some might consider it ruined. 

Examples of the final category include the following: If an avocado becomes too soft, spread it as a substitute for butter or sour cream. Revive limp broccoli by placing it in ice water and placing it in the refrigerator. Use wilted carrots in soups and purees. To eat an overripe cucumber, scoop out the seeds to remove bitterness. Use overripe apples for applesauce and overripe bananas for cooking bread. If you email us a request, we will send you this guide.

Shelf-stable food can be donated to Food Share. Waste Free VC, funded through April 2021 with a grant from CalRecycle, is increasingly developing capacity to prevent other types of food from becoming waste. You can stay up to date on this regional effort by following the Waste-Free Ventura County Coalition on Facebook. 

Food Forward, another local nonprofit preventing food waste, focuses on fruit and vegetables, harvesting from donors’ backyards and collecting surplus from farmers’ markets. 

As a last line of defense against sending food to landfills, you can also divert scraps and spoils through home composting or a worm box.

David Goldstein and Tobie Mitchell are Environmental Resource Analysts with the Ventura County Public Works Agency. You can reach them at david.goldstein@ventura.org .

More information:

www.calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/food

www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/are-you-storing-food-safely