5 Money-saving Sustainable Food Strategies

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What do you store your leftovers in? I’m sure, like most people you place them into a plastic tupperware container, however you may be surprised to learn that some food storage options add their own special “flavor” to your leftovers. That flavor may be bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, antimony, or any number of other chemicals that, well, shouldn’t really be in your food. It’s called “leaching” and some of your favorite food containers may be leaching chemicals into your food. So to help you save money, food and some sanity, we’ve come up with some simple sustainable food strategies:

5 eco-friendly tips for your food

1. Stop petrochemical additions to your food. Plastic is made from petrochemicals (derived from crude oil). It is usually labeled on the package somewhere with little numbers: #1 through #7. Some of these are safer than others. The worst offenders are: #1 (which can leach antimony into your food), #3 (phthalates), #6 (a cornucopia of chemical flavors), and #7 (BPA). Plastic #5 seems to be the safest among the plastic family, but why risk plastic at all? Glass storage options are the new norm, either Pyrex glass with silicon lids or glass jars with fitted clamps or screw on lids. And glass is basically as safe as it gets, chemically, so it won’t leach anything into your food.

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Plastic is made from petroleum based chemicals. Why risk having those chemicals leach into your food during storage or reheating? Just get rid of plastic altogether and use glass storage options!

2. Be careful with microwaving your leftovers. Microwave safe? The jury is still out on this one, but when a plastic food storage item is marked as microwave safe, all it really means is that the plastic itself won’t melt if you put it in the microwave. The “designation” of microwave safe (pictured below) means NOTHING in terms of whether it will cause the plastic to leach chemicals into your food. Microwaving in glass containers (as long as you don’t put the lid in with it) is a safer option than microwaving in plastic of any kind, even if the plastic is marked “microwave safe”.

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Is it safe to microwave food? There is no conclusive proof that microwaving food changes its chemistry so radically that it becomes toxic for you. There is a growing movement of people who do not use a microwave at all, however, preferring food that has been warmed externally versus heating by irradiating the molecules inside the food. As far as radiation goes, if the door and seal of the microwave are not compromised, radiation is not supposed to be harmful to people standing next to the microwave while it’s cooking. If you’re concerned, you can be doubly safe by not standing close to the microwave while it’s in use. Radiation from a microwave diminishes with distance, so just go hang out in the next room while the microwave is in use, if you’re concerned.

3. Save money by decreasing food waste. You can also save money by doing a few simple things that will help you avoid food waste. The average American household (4 person) wastes over $2,200 a year by letting perfectly good food get tossed.

The absolute first thing to know is that the “expiration date” printed on most packaged foods is not usually an actual expiration date: it’s usually more of a “best by” date. In other words, crackers may not be *quite* as crunchy after the expiration date printed on them, but they’re more than likely perfectly edible. At the time of this writing, there is no federal standard on this. States have a patchwork of regulations, so there’s really no telling whether food is expired just by a date printed on a package.

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Further reading on food waste:

4. Save money with smart food storage habits. You can also save money and save energy by thinking about how you store food. After you’re done cooking, let your food cool on the stove (or on the windowsill like Mom always did) before sticking it in the fridge. This will keep the heat out of the fridge and prevent extra humidity. If you are defrosting something, take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge so that when it thaws out, it helps the fridge stay cold, saving energy.

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No matter what food you make, let it cool to room temperature before you put it in the fridge, otherwise, hot food placed in your fridge will make it work harder to cool it off.

5. Use re-usable grocery bags/re-purpose your plastics. Plastic bags, like the ones given out at grocery stores, are derived from petroleum and if improperly disposed of can contaminate waterways and pollute aquifers. Not to mention all the carbon emissions from making them in the first place. Our recommendation is to switch over to re-usable grocery bags. In many places, stores give a 5 or 10 cent refund if you bring your own bag. In our house, that adds up to about $50 a year.

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By implementing some of these techniques, you could save upwards of $2,200 per year! Those savings would mainly come through the reduction in the amount of food you throw away, but either way, you’ll save money, food and reduce your carbon footprint.

The following photos are courtesy of the Flickr Creative Commons (food in bins, glass food storage, food waste, food cooling and re-usable shopping bag/plastic bags) Photobucket and Pono Home.


About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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