MASTER GARDENER: Tips for minimizing food waste – Bemidji Pioneer

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, for every 10 pounds of food produced in the US, three to four pounds are wasted. The average American consumer throws away one pound of food each day, totaling about 365 pounds per year.

It’s surprisingly easy to reduce food waste. The first step: ignoring the dates on most packaged food: “use by,” “best by,” “sell by,” etc. Those phrases are intended to assist inventory control and marketing by food retailers.

Unlike nutritional information on prepared food packages, they are not required by federal law. According to the USDA, the only food legally required to carry an expiration date is baby formula.

Placing dates on packaged food items is voluntary. “Best by” or “use by” dates indicate only when the food’s flavor or texture is at its peak. However, as long as the food is stored properly, it should remain whole for a week after the “best by” date.

The USDA states that eggs are good from three to five weeks after you put them in the refrigerator. They recommend putting them in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

“Use by” dates are commonly seen on dairy products. As long as those products are properly refrigerated, they can be safely consumed up to a week beyond the “use by” date.

“Sell by” dates are, obviously, for the retailer’s use. They appear on foods such as fresh meat. Proper refrigeration or freezing will render the food safe after the “sell by” date.

What about homegrown foods? Property harvesting and storing will maximize availability for later consumption and minimize waste.

The University of Minnesota Extension Office has great information on harvesting and storing a variety of vegetables and fruits. Find it online at

Over time, now unused food becomes unpalatable and/or unsafe. But it still may be an asset. If you compost your kitchen scraps, about half of your “trash” can be reused.

Don’t want to make compost yourself? You can still participate in an important multi-county composting program.

You can sign up to participate at the Beltrami County Solid Waste Department. They have compostable liner bags at the Transfer Station. You’ll need a container and a convenient place to put it. For example, an ice cream bucket can be used as a countertop compost bin. Be sure to provide airflow by punching some small holes in the lid.

When your container is full, you can drop off your compost bag of scraps at either the Blackduck or Bemidji Transfer Stations. The material then goes to the Gentilly Landfill in Polk County where it is turned into rich compost that is used as a top layer over landfill that comes from multiple counties.

You can get more information from Brian Olson, Solid Waste Division Director (218) 333-8278 at the Transfer Station and from the Beltrami Solid Waste website. You’ll learn how your handling of unused rinds, peels, scraps, etc. can help reduce the trash in landfills; improve soil quality and water; reduce greenhouse gases; and support the economy.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on “Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website,, or by visiting our Facebook page at

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916 and leave your name, number and question.