Conservation Corner

Pauline Lee

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders guides the reader to eating well, while saving money by wasting less food. Furthermore, the environment benefits because wasted food decomposes in landfills to form methane, a greenhouse gas that is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This easy to use book has practical strategies, engaging checklists and simple recipes to “use-it-up.” It has helpful facts and tips to help you to be more productive in your kitchen.

Usually our produce and other fresh foods have their highest quality at the time of their harvest, but since we consumers are usually far from the production sources, we have to start with whatever is available in the store. Food quality steadily diminishes, as naturally occurring enzymes in food and ubiquitous microbes cause decomposition. Both these destructive reactions increase with time, warmer temperatures, moisture, and access to oxygen. Thus, the useful life of food can be extended by controlling these factors. Stores use refrigeration to keep produce, meats and sea food as fresh as possible. After we purchase these items we should keep them cold, possibly in a cooler in our car and bring them home directly to refrigerate them.

By buying too much food at one time, we may end up with food that spoils before we finish eating it. Thus, it’s no wonder when turkey is sold to consumers in the U.S., 35 percent of the meat ends up not being eaten, compared to only 15 percent waste for chicken meat. To avoid wasting food when the quantity is large, you should plan to break it down to smaller portions and preserving them by freezing, cooling, drying, pickling or canning. Gunders’ list of properties of 85 common foods will be handy for organizing their storage and timely usage. Packages marked with “use by” usually are recommendations by manufacturers to indicate quality, not safety; the exceptions are for deli meats, unpasteurized cheeses, smoked seafood and any premade sandwiches with these ingredients which carry a high risk of pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.

When does food make people sick? Meats and oil turn rancid because their unsaturated fatty acids can be oxidized in the air; however, rancid food is still edible. Gunders points out more than 250 types of foodborne illness are caused by toxins from living microorganisms. She gives a useful list of precautions and foods that tend to become contaminated with these toxins.

What can you do with uncooked or cooked leftovers? Leftovers can be creatively incorporated into different recipes or frozen for later use. Among 20 recipes for leftovers, Gunders includes sneaky black bean brownies, which are gluten free and high fiber. When cooking accidents happen, remedies are suggested for food that is burned, oversalted, overcooked or bland. Other uses of leftovers can be for feeding pets or making compost for your garden. Why not live more efficiently by applying Gunders’ easy tips, to maximize the beneficial use of your food?