#993 A Small Fridge Wastes Less Food

31 Oct

Keeping the fridge clean, the items fresh and in sight and adjusting shelves helps cut down food waste. Photo via flickr by Morgaine.

I know, I know, everyone wants a massive side-by-side or Sub-Zero ($$$$!). What happens to all the food you cram into your fridge? It rots. It goes bad. It languishes at the back of the fridge. It costs you money.

When we were kids and my mom bought eggplant we would hide it in the back of the fridge and, by the time she found it, the eggplant would be rotting and unusable. She’d be so mad at us. Now I can understand. Wasted food is wasted money. With a big fridge it’s very easy to waste food because you lose track of what’s in there. A small fridge forces you to use up food fast before it goes bad. Otherwise there will be no room for anything in there.

My mother-in-law is always running to the grocery store, but when I open the fridge, it’s crammed to the gills with food. I once tried to make lunch when she was out and my brother-in-law told me to shut the fridge quick and not venture in there. “It’s botulism waiting to happen,” he said emphatically. He was convinced that there were items still left from Christmas – it was July. It’s all the more surprising because my mother-in-law prides herself on her thrift. But there it was – a huge money wasterthe overfull fridge.

More than $250 billion is wasted every year around the world – just on unconsumed food waste. While a large part of it is from the restaurant industry, your personal part is right in your home. A half container of rotted strawberries: $1.50; expired cottage cheese: $1.50; unused leftovers: $2; moldy cheese: $1; funky-smelling deli meat: $2.50. That’s $8.50 right there. I don’t know about you – but I definitely want to save almost $10 off my grocery bill. To do so, make sure you’re not wasting what you buy.

moldy food food waste

Don’t let food and money go to waste in your fridge. Photo via flickr by Bludgeoner86.

No matter what, if I can’t see it in my fridge, I end up wasting food. So if you don’t have a small fridge, then make your behemoth smaller by keeping everything in sight. Eliminate shelves; put a cardboard box or divider to fill up the back space and force you to put everything in the front of the fridge where you can see it while still keeping it cool enough. Don’t use a shelf or drawer that you can’t see or in which you consistently forget items. Don’t throw all your vegetables in the vegetable drawer to leave the ones on the bottom to be forgotten and out-of-sight. Don’t hide small items behind tall ones. Adjust your habits to accommodate less fridge space, like using an open container of dairy product right away or consuming leftovers the next day or inventorying what you have on a regular basis to eliminate double-buying and keep fresh in your mind what you need to use.

Another great idea is to have a dedicated USE UP shelf of all the items that you need to use up in the next few days. Tailor your cooking and lunch around the USE UP shelf. Keep a roll of masking tape and a pen next to the fridge for the very purpose of labeling when you open items or store leftovers like a homemade expiration date reference.

You’d be amazed at how much you don’t have to refrigerate. Put fruits and vegetables on the counter or in the middle of the kitchen table so they’re in view. It makes it easy to remember to eat fruits and vegetables, and you use them up quickly enough that they don’t spoil. I usually end up re-upping on fresh fruits and vegetables on a more regular basis in a more European style of shopping fresh. Use dry powdered milk or UHT milk for cooking and baking so that it can be stored in the cupboard (UHT should be refrigerated once opened).

Admittedly, sometimes our dorm size fridge was packed full of beer the first few years out of college. It was Pennsylvania and they only let you buy beer by the case – what else were we going to do? Photo via flickr by Helen Cook.

If you have a big event like a dinner party, Thanksgiving or Christmas at your house that produces a lot of food – then make sure to freeze or use anything leftover quickly. Items like cranberry sauce can be made well in advanced and canned or frozen. I managed to fit a 12 lb. turkey into an apartment size fridge, so make sure you get something smaller than an enormous 20 pounder and reserve to pick it up the day before or the day of so you’re not sacrificing your fridge for too long. Having a smaller fridge also forces you not to make excess amounts of food, which will help you cut down on overeating and being forced to eat sweet potatoes for a week during the holidays.

Somehow, my husband and I always ended up renting apartments that we loved – but that had tiny fridges – for many years. I learned to love them and realized that more fridge space meant more waste. A couple can easily eat out of a dorm or apartment-size fridge. A family does need a little more space – but not much.

Although you would like to think that smaller fridges are a lot  more energy efficient, they’re only slightly more energy efficient but it will save you money on the electric bill as well. Closing the door as soon as you are done and not holding it open as you decide what to eat saves quite a bit of energy as well.

If you don’t want to commit to a small fridge, at least think about how you use your fridge and what you can do to eliminate food waste, which will save you a lot of money throughout the year.

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