A big part of running a kitchen is managing food and food waste. Chefs have to meal plan, do kitchen audits, make grocery lists, use what they have, and buy just the right amount of food so that there is little waste. This is good kitchen management 101. Reducing your kitchen food waste saves the planet and the budget. At home, we’re all chefs in our own kitchens.
Our home is also where we have the most control over our individual impact on the planet. As experts in ways to reduce our food waste, Second Harvest has written a lot on the subject. Here is a roundup of our top 10 kitchen food waste tips so that we can all be more sustainable chefs, grocery shoppers, and consumers at home.
Top 10 Kitchen Food Waste Tips for Chefs at Home
1. Get to Know Your Best Before Dates
“The first thing that you need to know is that best before dates are about quality, not safety. It quite literally means that the food was best, or in its finest form, before said date. After that date means that it’s beginning its slow decline in quality.”
“It’s easy to push our canned goods, sauces, spices, jarred jams, chutneys and pickles, teas, soups, grains, flours and cereals to the back of our cupboards and forget about them until they’re ancient and ready for the landfill. It takes work and conscious effort to do the opposite—and avoid the cost (to our wallets but, more significantly, the planet) of unnecessary food waste.”
Like any restaurant chef will tell you, a big part of managing a kitchen is knowing what needs to be eaten and when. Do a quick inventory of your cupboards, freezer, pantry, and fridge. What’s the point in buying farm-fresh strawberries if half of them rot in your fridge? Use your senses and eat your way through your kitchen! Better yet, clean out your freezer and stay on top of what’s in there.
“Eating the items at the back of your cabinet or freezer shouldn’t be a chore, so don’t make it one. Find a great recipe (foodgawker is an excellent resource) and make a plan to celebrate the ingredients.”
Part of reducing your kitchen food waste is getting creative with recipes that include ingredients that need to be eaten. For instance, if you have meat in your freezer and know that it should be eaten, take it out to unthaw, and spend a few minutes researching recipes that get you inspired.
4. Meal Plan Based on What you Have
When chefs do kitchen audits, they write down what they have that needs to be eaten, brainstorm recipes that could feature those ingredients, and make a meal plan from there. At home, consider doing the same thing. For instance, if you have canned corn, tomatoes, and beans in your pantry, you could make a hearty soup or tacos or burritos, depending on what inspires you (and your appetite).
“Depending on how many meals you plan to make at home per day and per week, make a little grid of breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. Add in the recipes that feature foods that need to get eaten first and fill out your meal plan from there. Don’t forget that some meals could be made from leftovers and spruced up with a delicious salad, vegetables or soup.”
Knowing what you already have and what you need to buy more of can make a huge impact on reducing your kitchen food waste. That way you don’t get to the grocery store and impulse buy items that you already have, which can trigger unnecessary waste. For instance, if you run out of olive oil or vinegar, take note of it somewhere. A running “grocery list” in your phone’s note section is helpful—then tick off items once you buy them.
6. Know Where and How to Store Your Produce
“How you store your fruits, vegetables, bread, canned goods, and condiments greatly impacts their shelf-life—and your household food waste.”
“Give yourself the space and time to cook. Figure out what you need to make the experience enjoyable and make it happen. This may be finding inspiration in cookbooks, recipes online or watching how-to videos—or it could be decluttering your kitchen or just scheduling enough time after work to cook.”
It takes time, work, effort, and love to prepare a meal from scratch. But the benefits are endless. The meal is often more nutritious, healthy, and delicious, plus it reminds us to value our ingredients and food. Making our own meals forces us to understand how our food got to our plates. Hopefully, all of this helps us to think twice about food waste.
8. Save Your Kitchen Leftovers
“Find ways to spruce [your leftovers] up. For example, if you’ve made pasta, consider eating it two days from now (so that you didn’t just have it—boring!) and make a side salad or saute vegetables to make it different. If you know that you’re not going to eat the leftovers immediately, freeze them instead.”
Once you’ve put time, effort, and money into doing a kitchen audit, meal planning, grocery shopping, and preparing a meal, the last thing you’re going to want to do is waste your leftovers. Save them for lunch another day and beef them up with other ingredients that need to be eaten.
Some food waste is unavoidable, like carrot tops, onion skins, bones, and so on. Some other kitchen food waste is avoidable, like tossing wilted produce, ugly vegetables, or blemished fruit. It’s up to us chefs at home to get creative with what we do with all of our food waste. For instance, all of the unavoidable food waste mentioned above could make delicious soup stock and then go into the compost, rather than the landfill. Likewise, blemished, ugly, or wilted produce is still edible and nutritious—we just have to get a bit more creative with how we prepare it.
10. Support Local Food Waste Rescue and Reduction Causes
Communities across Canada are doing inspirational work to reduce, rescue, and redistribute food waste. Take the City of Toronto, for instance. The City of Toronto’s Waste Reduction Community Grants program awarded Second Harvest a grant in 2021 to support our innovative food rescue and reduction efforts. Using this funding award, Second Harvest developed and delivered a training program to help people learn how to reduce waste in their homes.
With this grant award, Second Harvest designed a food waste reduction workshop and conducted 10 training sessions that were attended by 241 people living in Toronto. We developed a “train-the-trainer” guide for teachers, mentors, and anyone who trains others on how to reduce waste. This launched alongside a workshop that had over 100 people join in. Second Harvest also conducted in-depth food waste audits that measured waste volumes in five Toronto-based community groups to help them reduce their waste—and spending and impact as a result.
Second Harvest is grateful to the City of Toronto for providing this grant that helped us share our knowledge and best practices with others.
Surplus is an amount that is more than what is needed. It’s an excess of supply over demand. Surplus food then, based on this definition, is the quantity of food that we grow or make that exceeds the demand. It is an abundance of food. In a perfect world, we would make just enough food to feed everyone. Any unexpected extra food would be eaten. But in Canada, only 4% of surplus edible food is rescued before it goes to waste and is redistributed to feed the millions of Canadians who do not have access to enough food for a healthy, balanced diet.
Today, you’ll learn:
What surplus edible food means
The difference between food loss and waste (when it comes to surplus food)
How much surplus edible food is wasted (spoiler alert: ~96% in Canada)
Why this is a social and environmental problem
What you can do about it
What is Surplus Edible Food?
Not all food surplus is alike. Some excess food isn’t edible or avoidable. For instance, unavoidable surplus food includes things like animal by-products, like bones, shells, or husks, and the expected or planned food waste that happens often because we don’t eat every part of some foods. If you make stock and throw out the cooked vegetables, that is planned surplus.
Avoidable food loss and waste is surplus edible food that could have been eaten but for various reasons it was wasted. It’s surplus edible food that is still good, healthy, and nourishing to eat. This could be unsold food like unharvested produce, items past their best-before date, or food left to go bad.
Examples of Surplus Edible Food Loss
By now, you may have noticed that we say food loss and waste. That’s because there’s a difference, even though they’re often lumped together as simply food waste. Food loss happens during production, post-harvest, and processing and manufacturing. Some of this is unavoidable, like mentioned earlier, but some of it is avoidable.
Some examples of avoidable surplus edible food loss are when too much milk is produced and there isn’t a market or demand for it and so it goes down the drain post-production. Or if orders are cancelled after farmers already planted and grew the crops—and they can’t find a last-minute buyer for it—that food is lost on the farm. If a manufacturer makes too much of a product and exceeds their contracted amount with distributors, that food is now surplus edible food loss. Same with unexpected labour shortages that result in produce going bad before it could be harvested or processed.
Examples of Surplus Edible Food Waste
Fast-forward along the food chain are distributors, retailers like grocers, and hotels, restaurants, institutions, and consumers (ie. homes). Food waste happens here.
An example food waste is perfectly good day-old bread or pastries that don’t sell and go to waste. Blemished and imperfect fruit, wilted greens, “ugly” vegetables, or items that were too close to or past their best-before dates are other examples. Good food that goes to waste by anyone, from distributors, delivery trucks, grocers, restaurants, or us at home, is avoidable food waste.
How Much Surplus Edible Food is Lost or Wasted?
In our 2022 ground-breaking report,Wasted Opportunity, Second Harvest discovered just how much surplus edible food is being lost and wasted.
Canada’s food industry produces 3.2 million metric tonnes of surplus edible food each year. Of that deliciously edible surplus food, only 4% is rescued before it goes to waste and is redistributed to people who need it.
That means that 96% of surplus edible food goes to waste in Canada. This surplus food isn’t rescued or redistributed to help feed the millions of Canadians who experience food insecurity every day.
Mind you, 96% is a conservative estimate based on what 127,177 surveyed could-be surplus food donor businesses believe is edible surplus that they might donate. This is not necessarily what is actually edible but they are not inclined to donate to food rescue. The reality might be worse still—and this is just in Canada.
And we now know that 96% of that edible surplus food produced by the food industry, goes to waste—it doesn’t even make it to those thousands of food charities across Canada. Wasting surplus food is a major social issue. Instead, it can be a miraculous part of the solution to eliminating hunger in Canada.
Wasting surplus food is a waste on multiple levels, including wasting all of the energy and resources that went into growing, producing, manufacturing, processing, distributing, marketing, and selling the food. It’s bad for business, resources, people, and the planet. Canada creates 56.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions every year from food waste.
For more reading on the environmental impact of food waste, check out:
There is hope yet, if we all do our part. In Second Harvest’s most recent report, Wasted Opportunity, we dove into food loss and waste in the food industry specifically. We looked at the types of surplus edible food, where it comes from, and the opportunities or solutions to curb waste. Based on all that we now know, here’s what you can do:
As renowned Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki said, “In a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket. But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.” The climate crisis feels overwhelmingly huge, and it’s easy to get discouraged, apathetic, grief-stricken, or scared. But taking action—with courage and love for ourselves, our future, and our home —helps counteract all of that. Together we can do this, especially if we act now.
In honour of Earth Day on April 22, 2022, here are 7 things you can do as an individual and community member about the climate crisis.
7 Ways To Make A Big Impact This Earth Day
1. Reduce Your Food Waste
The food supply chain accounts for approximately one-quarter of all worldwide GHG emissions, according to a University of Oxford study. This is due to many factors, including deforestation to make more farmland and the freshwater used to grow our produce and grains that animals (cows, mostly) eat. But it also includes the resources—most often fossil fuels, ie. gas—necessary to power the processes of harvesting, manufacturing, processing and packaging, transporting and distributing our food. If that food is lost or wasted along the food chain, all of those resources plus the food go to waste.
It may sound simple, but talking about the climate crisis is an important place to start. Talk about your fears and concerns with your family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, peers, community members, social followers, politicians, and so on. Voicing your concerns is the first step toward taking action. It’s the first step toward finding solutions and joining together with others to make real change happen! It all starts from a seed of an idea and the willingness to have an important conversation.
3. Use Your Voice to Hold Politicians and Policies Accountable
How can you take action? Ask governmental leaders those hard questions. Sign petitions, go to climate rallies, write emails, hold politicians and their promises and policies accountable. Demand action, including greater protection and care for our natural ecosystems and resources and investments toward green and sustainable energy solutions.
4. Get Active and Get Moving Outside
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, transportation in Canada accounts for 24% of climate-polluting emissions. That’s a close second to the oil and gas industry. If we all do our small part, we can make a big difference. How you choose to get around every day makes a big impact on the planet and our climate—as well as your health, wellness, happiness, and wallet. The emphasis here is on consumer choice.
Instead of driving everywhere in your gas-guzzler car, see how long it will take to bike or walk there. Get outside! If not for the vitamin D and fresh air, it will help remind you of what you’re fighting for (or against). Or, see if you can make that one-off meeting a Zoom chat and save yourself the trip. Spend that commuter time outside.
5. Practice Smart and Fuel-Efficient Driving
For those times when you do have to drive to get groceries, commute, or drop the kids off somewhere, keep your carbon footprint in mind. If you have two cars, take the smaller, more fuel-efficient car (or electric car, if you have one).
Or, consider carpooling, taking public transportation, or carsharing with others. When you are driving, take your foot off of the gas wherever possible. If there’s a stoplight ahead, why not cruise to a stop? (Ignore the honks behind you—you’re just doing your part!)
6. Fly Less—and Make a HUGE Impact
We all need a vacation every once in a while. Our changing climate requires us to practice sustainable travel, until we have another option for powering planes, we must be mindful of our extraordinary footprint when flying. This coming Earth Day, take a moment to consider your upcoming travel plans and find a way to lessen your environmental impact. That could be combining trips that require flying and/or exploring greener ways to travel and get around once you’ve arrived.
According to a Goodside eBook on reducing carbon footprints, “an economy-class return flight from Los Angeles to Sydney emits about 3.36 tCO2e per passenger. That’s more than 20 percent of the average American’s annual carbon footprint (and more than double our target footprint)… One surf vacation down under could mean the loss of about 10 square meters of Arctic ice—that’s more than 100 square feet.”
7. Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly
Your home is where you hold the most power and influence. Plus, that’s where little changes can make a big difference to your footprint and monthly bills. There are a million ways to make your home more efficient, green, and eco-friendly—a significant one being how you fuel and power your home.
To name just a few smaller upgrades, swap your light bulbs out to energy-efficient ones. When your old appliances need upgrading, opt for the most eco-friendly ones. Use energy-efficient settings, such as cold water washes rather than hot. Turn off the lights and heat or air conditioning when you’re not home or in the room—or use good old-fashioned windows and natural light.
Together, We’ve Got This!
Together, we can take these steps at home, in our communities, or at work in order to protect our beautiful blue and green planet and all those living here. Millions of people are taking action in small and big ways. Be kind to yourself and make an impact when and where you can. After all, it’s Earth Day every day.
April 27, 2022, is Canada’s annual Stop Food Waste Day. Food waste is a challenge that spans far beyond Canada’s borders—and so do its solutions. As Canada’s largest food rescue organization, Second Harvest has dedicated much of our time, energy, and thought into growing an online library of free resources, tools, e-learning, research, and blogs that will help all of us put an end to food waste at home (wherever that may be).
Here is a collection of our top food waste resources to help us all in our collective mission to eliminate food waste for good. But before we jump in, here is a little food for thought to help inspire you to make new (and good) food habits.
Food For Thought on Stop Food Waste Day
Stop Food Waste Day is an annual awareness day meant to educate, inspire, and ignite change, but all of us must overhaul our consumption habits in order to make a real impact. We must place a higher value on food. Consider all of the precious resources that went into the food supply chain to get your food onto your plate.
Take a carrot, for instance.
In order to grow a carrot, a farmer took the time, effort, and resources to prepare the land, plant the seed, water it, weed, fertilize, spray, and then harvest it, before a manufacturer washes, sorts, cuts, destems, packages, markets, sells, and ships it to a distributor, who then transports it to your grocery store. It took time, money, energy, freshwater, soil, sun, seeds, fertilizer, sprays, labour, packaging, refrigeration, and fuel to get that carrot to you.
A carrot, therefore, is so much more than just a carrot. It is all of the precious and often finite resources that went into getting it from the farm to your plate. And all of that combined is why we must stop food waste.
Explore These Resources and Stop Food Waste for Good
Bookmark this post and refer back to it on your journey toward a sustainable food future. Together, we’ve got this!
The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste Report
Did you know that 58% of all food in Canada is lost or wasted—and that 32% of that could be redirected to feed Canadians? In a first-of-its-kind report, The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste demonstrates the need to radically change how we value food. The report follows a year-long research project by Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International, a leading public and industry voice in food waste. Among many other findings, they discovered that every year, 56.5 million metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions are created by food waste in Canada.
We’re experts in the field of food rescue and waste reduction—and we’ve done the research for you! Check out our collection of blog posts on food waste to find more statistics, hopeful stories, thought leadership articles, and inspiring tips, tricks, and challenges to start doing at home and at work.
Here are some of our top blog posts on food waste to help you get started and inspired:
Free Online Workshops on Food Waste Prevention Training
Second Harvest offers free online workshops, including several quick e-learning courses based on Food Waste Prevention. These workshops give businesses, corporations, individuals, and non-profits strategies, challenges, solutions, and tips to maximize food, while reducing unnecessary and environmentally harmful waste (and spending).
Some of the food waste prevention e-learnings include:
Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization. Last year, we rescued 41 million pounds of food that would have gone to waste and sent it to Canadians in need. That’s equivalent to averting 162 million pounds of greenhouse gases from the environment. Second Harvest works across the food supply chain to stop food waste and support hunger relief in Canada. But we’ve never done it alone. We all have to do our part to stop food waste both in our homes, our communities, and at our workplaces.
Decades ago, we had an idea. What if we rescued fresh food from local grocers, farmers, manufacturers, and distributors beforeit expired or went to waste? Then, we could redistribute that surplus food to our community food banks, agencies, soup kitchens, schools, and other organizations that needed it! Since 1985, Second Harvest has rescued and delivered more than 177 million pounds of food, preventing over 75 million pounds of greenhouse gas equivalents from entering our atmosphere.
What started out as a brilliant idea at a grassroots non-profit organization in Toronto has since expanded to meet the growing need across the country, changing the lives of (and inspiring action from) millions of Canadians. Second Harvest has proudly become the largest food rescue organization in Canada and a global thought leader on food recovery, food waste, and hunger relief.
Our original grassroots mission hasn’t changed, but our national and digital scale and vision have given it a renewed sense of purpose. In the spirit of renewal, Second Harvest is thrilled to announce the launch of our brand refresh!
“This has been an important journey,” CEO Lori Nikkel says, “starting from our humble roots serving the Toronto community and now to a national organization serving over 900 communities. This is an exciting time – a time to share Second Harvest to all Canadians with a new look that represents the organization we have become, a unified brand that clearly showcases our values, mission and vision of a Canada with No Waste and No Hunger.
Introducing Second Harvest’s Brand Refresh
As we’ve expanded to help communities across Canada and online with our food rescue app, our logo and brand name have been invaluable. Second Harvest is synonymous with our vision of No Waste. No Hunger. Even the words Second Harvest remind us every day that we’re reviving—or renewing—the original and sole purpose of food: to eat it! Not to let it go to waste, as so much of the food grown in Canada and worldwide does (and is expected to).
Our Second Harvest Logo Renewed and Refreshed
We’ve chosen to add three green interlocking circles to our logo to symbolize growth, just like plants and crops that come to life in the spring and grow toward the sun through summer until harvest. But more than representing the growth and harvest, the interlocking circles are a trinity of real change.
Each circle of growth is unique and connected to the next. Together they represent the important aspects of Second Harvest’s mission:
Introduce new ideas and innovative ways of thinking.
Create and build the tools to affect change and transform how we care for the planet.
Seek people who are inspired to find ways to rescue and renew food and avoid waste.
Our new logo font is a modern font in lower case that we believe is open, friendly, welcoming, and reflects our growing position on the world stage.
National and Bilingual Identity
What started out as rescuing food in local communities in the GTA, has quickly expanded across the country as increased food insecurity and waste demanded it in the wake of the pandemic.
Second Harvest now redistributes surplus food to a broad network of over 3,000 agencies. Hundreds of communities from PEI to BC and as far north as Clyde River, Nunavut receive rescued food from Second Harvest. This was only possible because of our incredible partnerships with over 4,500 food donors, not to mention the army of workers and volunteers at non-profit organizations.
Now that we’re working on a national scale and representing Canada’s food recovery efforts worldwide, we redesigned our logo to reflect our English and French identity.
A Brand Refresh That Reflects our Mission and Vision for the Future
Everything about Second Harvest’s brand refresh is meant to reflect our growth and our renewed vision (and hope and drive) for a sustainable future for Canada: No Waste. No Hunger.
For example, our primary colour palette is green to represent growth and sustainability. Our secondary colour palette is inspired by fresh produce, that we hope stays on our plates (and into our bodies as nourishment so that we can flourish and thrive) and out of landfills.
Likewise, our brand voice aims to inspire change for the better and attract passionate, like-minded people and partners who share our common goals. That voice is clear, caring, kind, and informative.
We have created a brand that represents a secure and sustainable future we—as Canadians and local and global community members—are all working towards. We hope that our brand refresh will continue to inspire and attract ideas, tools, and people to make real change for good.