Fridge on the fritz brings food waste into focus

A new cooler purchased with the intent to expand our outdoor cooking proved indispensable when our refrigerator went on the fritz last week.

Summer camping left us with blocks of ice that just fit our Cabela’s cooler. Transferring those from the auxiliary freezer in our garage left plenty of room for our freezer cache from INSIDE the house.

Because I couldn’t fit the refrigerator’s entire contents into the cooler, I had to think logically and get choosy. Mindful of safe storage temperatures, I transferred fruits and veggies into our small beverage refrigerator on the other side of the kitchen. Tortillas, peanut butter, maple syrup, jam, oil and their ilk simply sat on the counter. And anything that was close to being tossed anyway — or hadn’t been used in a while — I abandoned in the malfunctioning refrigerator to await its ultimate fate.

I typically view our shelves of condiments with a jaundiced eye. But the detritus still littering our refrigerator convinced me more than ever that we were prone to purchasing plenty of nonessentials: sauces and seasonings that promise exciting flavor and convenience but ultimately aren’t worth their price tags. Not when we routinely make vinaigrette from a good inventory of flavored vinegars and barbecue sauce from tomato paste, molasses, still more vinegar, sugar and other seasonings.

It had never been clearer that the multicolored jars and bottles weren’t just a waste of money; they literally would go to waste. After confirming that the “best by” dates on bottles of Chinese oyster sauce and Hawaiian coconut syrup had elapsed years ago, I couldn’t conscience moving them into a fridge newer than they were.

Food waste has been a hot topic again in the news, with one story citing a source at the University of Pennsylvania, who estimates that the average American family of four wastes up to $2,200 per year. I’ve become convinced over the past year that keeping a flock of chickens may not be strictly economical, once you pencil out the cost per egg. But the birds’ appetites have noticeably reduced what ends up in our trash can. Even if it’s a monetary wash, the cycle of scraps into eggs is more satisfying than purchasing eggs outright.

Condiments may be my downfall. But I consider myself thrifty in other areas of the grocery store and already practice most of these tips for reducing food waste, courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency. “Rotating,” or putting older items in the front of the fridge where they get used first, is one of my particular obsessions.

Tips to be Thrifty

Be mindful that old ingredients and leftovers need to be used first.

Shop in your refrigerator first. Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.

Have produce that’s past its prime? It might still be fine for cooking. Think of making soups, casseroles, stir fries, sauces, baked goods, pancakes or smoothies.

Freeze, preserve or can surplus fruits and vegetables — especially when in abundance during the season.

Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping and buy only the things needed for those meals.

Buy only what you need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.

Put older food items in the front in the refrigerator. This way you will end up using them first.

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  • Blog Author

    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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