It seems wrong that so much edible food ends up in landfills (about 3.8 million tons each year in Illinois) while people go hungry. Well, several mobile apps are helping to address the problem by allowing supermarkets and restaurants to sell high-spoilage food directly to consumers at heavily discounted prices, and some of our local businesses are using these services!
For grocery stores, there is an app called Flashfood. Meijer sites in Elgin, St. Charles, East Aurora and Oswego are currently participating. Each location lists items in the app that are usually available at heavily discounted prices within a few days of the sell-by date.
Just as an example, on the day this article was written, St. Charles offerings included pork loin, chicken drumsticks, bagged salad greens, prepared deli salads, sliced fruit, and even healthy snack packs for school lunches, all for at least 50% off. Customers can buy the items via the app and pick them up directly from customer service. The Flashfood app is free to download for iOS and Android.
For restaurants, cafes and bakeries there is Too Good to Go. Restaurants can offer food at heavily discounted prices and provide a pick-up window for when that food will be available. Customers can reserve specific items and ‘mystery bags’ through the app. The “snack bags” allow restaurants to make a list for their leftover groceries of the day without knowing exactly what they’ll have. This obviously works best for customers who are not very picky and don’t have any dietary restrictions. For example, Small Cakes in Aurora and Panera Bread in Aurora and St. Charles recently had surprise bags on sale for $5.
Local businesses also help solve food waste and food insecurity by working directly with our local nonprofit food heroes. For example, the Northern Illinois Food Bank estimates that 80% of its groceries come from food-producing companies, rather than donations from private households.
The best thing each household can do individually to avoid food waste is to plan their purchases carefully to avoid over-buying. Before grocery shopping, create a menu and purchase only what is necessary to fulfill the menu, plus additional staples and snacks. Make sure you compare your list to what you already have in the pantry to avoid duplicates. This prevents over-purchasing or over-purchasing items that are unlikely to be used before they spoil.
Another tip is not to shop for groceries on an empty stomach. A research study of customer behavior found that hungry shoppers were more likely to buy unhealthy foods and over-buy.
If you find that you’ve over-bought a perishable item (or if it was only available in more quantity than needed), can the leftovers be frozen or otherwise creatively preserved? I’ve used leftover strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, basil, citrus peel, and ginger to make syrups for soda and mixed drinks.
Visit the Kane County Recycling Program’s Food Waste Prevention website for more creative ideas and to contribute your own ideas!