Minimizing Waste With Preserved and Stored Food

Sharon July 24th, 2008

Ok, you’ve gone through all the work of growing the stuff, canning or drying it, or buying it and hauling it home – how do you keep from losing it to pests, age, lack of planning, etc…?

Chile has a terrific post on managing food waste in general here – we waste at least 1/4 of all our food. Now we probably can’t get that down to 0 – although if you have animals, a worm bin or a compost pile, you can at least ensure that your waste has an upside.  But it is still cheaper to feed your worms on banana peels than on chocolate layer cake you let go bad, and it is better for everyone if people food gets used as people food.

 So how do you handle and manage your stored and preserved food to minimize waste?

1. To the extent you can, try to minimize gaps between harvest time and preservation – the longer you wait, the fewer nutrients, the more spoilage, the lower quality the food, the more you risk one rotten berry giving an off taste to the whole batch, not to mention the swarms of fruit flies.  If you can harvest on the same day, do – it makes a difference.

2. Have a back up plan for edible parts of the food you don’t want to preserve.  The peels to those lemons can be dried to make lemon zest, or used to flavor lemon vinegar.  The apple peels can be used to make apple vinegar.  Watermelon rind pickles, corncob jelly, many things with zucchini – these are the products of excess and thrift.

3. When you are freezing or canning, pack the food in quantities that you can eat quickly. Yes, I know it is faster to can all that blackberry jam in quart jars, not half-pints, but if there are only two of you, you will be throwing out some jam if you can it in containers that are two large. Same with freezing – if you freeze all the chicken stock in one container, you then have to use it – if you can get only what you want, you have less chance of seeing things rot.

4. Expect to have to use some things up quickly – that jar of jam that didn’t seal, or the pressure canned soup that you weren’t quite sure about.  The bits of meat that didn’t fit in that last jar and you didn’t bother canning. 

5. Don’t get more than you can store.  It would be a mistake to buy more food than you can store correctly – if you don’t have jars or buckets, don’t get a ton of oatmeal until you do.

6. Less air, less heat, less humidity are always better.  Life isn’t perfect, but it is worth making some effort on these fronts if  you can.

7. Check everything regularly – open lids, examine sealed jars, take a sniff of the sauekraut.  Do it regularly – and schedule it.

8. In an emergency, get out the canner and dehydrator, and get to work.  Sudden early frost meant you had to pull in all the berries?  Power was out three days and now you have half a cow half-defrosted?  Bad storm took down the cherry tree, and the cherries with it?  Cold snap came too early to ripen the tomatoes?  Well, it is time to get out there with alternate methods – throw the frozen corn in the dehydrator, get the pressure canner running and can that beef as stew.  Food preservation techniques can save you from food losses.

9. Even in a non-emergency, food preservation should be used to extend the life of food that can’t be saved another way.  We can the slightly wrinkled apples in the root cellar as applesauce, we make sauerkraut and kimchi when the cabbage is fading, dehydrate the onions and garlic if they show signs of trouble.  A combination of strategies can work better than any single one.

10.  Once you’ve preserved it, don’t forget to eat it.  This sounds obvious, but it isn’t to a lot of people – things get crammed in the back of the fridge. You worked hard for this – so use it up, plan your menus around the leftovers, make sure you scrape out the jam jar (if you add a little water to a jar of jam and shake it up, you can make a popsicle out of it), and use that pickle brine to flavor your tuna sandwich or as part of salad dressing. 

Sharon

3 Responses to “Minimizing Waste With Preserved and Stored Food”

  1. Chile says:

    Thanks! I had to laugh when you said choose the right size for your jam. It took me a while to figure out that I should can in 12 oz jars, not 8 oz. We go through jam quickly and I’d rather use less jars (and lids!) And, I’ve learned to always sterilize an extra jar, usually a small one, because my canning always results in more than it “should”.

    Years ago, when the stores allowed it, I used to pick up 2-6 boxes of culled produce twice a week. I’d spend most of the day going through it all. 10-25% of it was still edible. About half could go to the chickens (yes, I used to have chickens and ate the eggs, too), and the rest in the compost pile.

    I think that experience really helped get me past the ick factor. One bruise or puncture on a piece of fruit didn’t mean it was ruined. I made so much compote back then, with oranges, pears, apples, and bananas. Didn’t have a canner then, though, so we ate it or froze it. I zested and dried mountains of orange and lemon peel. Dehydrated celery leaves, parsley, and cilantro for seasoning. And learned to eat radishes in abundance. It was astonishing how many radishes, in perfect condition except for yellowed leaves, were tossed out. We had salads daily and the chickens did, too.

    If I had been doing canning back then, I don’t think I ever would have had to buy food!

  2. Kim says:

    This is a great little series you’ve been putting up. Somethings have just been a reiteration for me that I have needed, and I’ve learned several new tricks. It’s been great!

    One question I’ve been meaning to ask you, is what you think might be the best substitution for a root cellar for those of us who live in apartments in the city? Thankfully my building is only a one story fourplex, I have a small garden space, and space to compost…but storage is still at a premium…and given that my potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic etc. still sprout the way I’ve been keeping…I think I need a better option.

    I live in Alaska, and lately I’ve been kind of thinking that my best option, especially in the winter, would be to use the back a of a cupboard I rarely open that is on an outside wall… Clearly the space will be limited, but that comes with apartment living anyway. Do you have any other brilliant ideas? (you seem to have so many!)

    Thanks!

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