July 17, 2009

Food Waste Friday: Refrigerator Cleanout

That's embarrassing. I thought we'd been doing pretty well so far, but a lot of these bottles and jars were hanging out on the door shelves, a little under my radar. We had to do a thorough cleaning out of the refrigerator this week, because my husband bought a new refrigerator. Yes, I did say new. He spent six weeks searching Craigslist for a used one, and even looked at two, but ultimately bought a discontinued model that was on sale. He's just as frugal as I am, but he's not on The Compact, so all I could do was encourage him to look for a used model. But since he's on a schedule, we ended up with a new fridge.

I can't say I'm unhappy at having a gorgeous brand-new stainless steel refrigerator. I would only be happier if it was this perfect, but we'd bought it from someone who'd gotten it just recently and realized they suddenly had to move, or they wanted a different model, or they were going on a nuts-and-berries diet and didn't even need a refrigerator. But I'm not complaining. My husband did a lot of work doing a mini-remodel on our kitchen, so I'm not going to give him grief about purchasing new appliances. But it does somewhat undermine my Buy Nothing New commitment, or at least make me feel a bit hypocritical when I talk about The Compact. So in case I haven't mentioned it: my husband is NOT doing The Compact, but he does support me in my commitment.

So back to this shameful display of bottles and jars. This is several years' worth, because some of these were 4 or 5 years old. In fact, the dressing with the hula girl was bought in Hawaii on a trip we took back in 2001. Okay, so this is really getting embarrassing. But I've come to the conclusion we don't really like or use jam or dressing that much. Obviously. My husband eats jam on toast occasionally, and I almost never eat it. I like it, but there are so many other things I'd rather have for breakfast. As far as the salad dressing, I usually make a simple dressing from scratch, so aside from the 2 or 3 favorites that we use often, these other more "exotic" choices get forgotten about.

I did manage to save a few jars of jam, some hoison sauce, and some garlic black bean sauce by consulting the excellent website Still Tasty. Check it out, you can find out how long almost any food will last before it needs to be tossed. Jam that still tasted good but was past the "sell by" date, I kept. And the hoison sauce and garlic black bean sauce are used so occasionally, and contain so many preservatives, I figure they're good for years.

I first found out about Still Tasty from my friend Kate over at An Exercise in Frugality. If you haven't checked out her blog yet, I highly recommend it. She posts a mix of useful information and thoughtful questions that I find very interesting and a bit different from other blogs. She offers ideas on how to make frappucinos at home, the many uses for baking soda, and creative parenting tips, to name just a few.

And as far as this week's food waste, at least I've learned something. We only need a couple of bottles of dressing, and one or two choices of jam. That way I don't think we'll be wasting any more condiments in the future. Once again, it's a matter of focus. I don't remember wasting mayonnaise or mustard or ketchup, or anything we actually use regularly. And by the way, I put all these through the dishwasher and am saving most of the jars. A couple of the plastic dressing bottles went in the recycling bin.

Have you been keeping track of your food waste? How did you do this week? It couldn't have been any worse than this. So fire away with your thoughts and questions in the Comments section. And if you want to know why you should even care, check out Wasted Food to learn about the consequences of sending rotten food to the landfill.


WilliamB said...

In my experience, many, many things we keep in fridge doors can stay there for a lo-o-ong time. As you say, commecial jam, ketchup, hoisin, garlic black bean sauce, hot sauces, commercial salad dressings, all last practically forever.

Homemade doesn't. A friend didn't eat the homemade farmer's market strawberry jam fast enough and it went moldy, which made me very sad.

Another friend's collection of 6 year old hot sauces are still fit to eat. (As much as they ever were, anyway.)

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl said...

lol about the hot sauces, William!

Angela, I've had weeks like this too...heck, when I cleaned out my chest freezer, I had a laundry basket full of food.

But, that food and yours was all bought before we were being more mindful about our purchasing, you know? We'll do better in the future.

stephanie said...

Hey Ang -
Congrats on the new kitchen!
I wanna see!!
(kudos to george)

I have the same problem with sauces/jams/etc.
I wish they would sell tiny bottles of that stuff.

Re: Still Tasty site.
I bookmarked it after you wrote about it and check it now and again but often disagree with the advice.
What about you guys?

One big disagreement is about butter.
The site says if you leave it out it will spoil in 1-2 days. Totally not true. I always leave my butter at room temperature in a covered dish.
Even in Texas in the summer, it doesn't go bad.
And unopened butter lasts a lot longer than a month in the fridge!
I always buy organic butter, though, maybe that contributes?

And the site says to store nuts in the fridge.
Whaaaaaa? That's just wrong.

Non Consumer Girl said...

I had a similar cleanout of my fridge some weeks ago.

Enjoy your new found space in your fridge and you will be able to find things so much more quickly!

Re you hubby's purchase of the new fridge, I have similar situation with Mr Techno. He is not doing the Compact, but is usually supportive of me doing it.
I came home the other day and he was playing with new "steering wheels" had bought for his new Wii car racing game. The next week I came home and he was playing with new gun/crossbow he had bought for his new Wii shooting game!

Angela said...

WilliamB- I agree. That's why I kept about five jars that were well past the "sell by" date, by years. Some by taste, others by reason (preservatives, while gross, would indicate it should last a long while). Hot sauces- that's funny- like tabasco? It doesn't need to last forever in our house- my husband goes through it very fast.

Kristen- Thanks for reminding me that we all go through these weeks, especially in the beginning. Now that there's been a fridge purge and a pantry purge, I don't think I'll have any more weeks this bad. And you're right about being more mindful of the purchasing. I'm not going to throw things in my basket on a whim- and if I do that occasionally, I'll make sure to remember it.

Steph- Yes, I think I'll put up a photo of our "limited remodel" that costs a few thousand instead of 40 grand. Although it won't look that impressive to people who didn't see how hideous it was when we moved in (no photos, sadly). What I love is that it's both functional AND aesthetic. So I'll walk in and feel better looking at it, and then I'll feel MUCH better using it.

Re: Still Tasty, I agree with you about both the butter and the nuts. I would never put nuts in the fridge, I don't want to eat cold nuts! And we leave butter at room temp like you, except when it gets into the 90s because it will melt right out of the container. But it lasts for weeks, I've never had a problem with it.

Non Consumer Girl- Ha! That's so funny about your husband's purchases. It seems that men and women will forever have different priorities, and men must have their toys! I will not even MENTION some of the toys my husband owns, and we don't even have kids, so they're just for him!

WilliamB said...

Angela - this friend is the only one eating the hot sauces. The Green Tabasco and Frank's Red Hot Chili-n-Lime sauce need regular replacement, though.

dogear6 said...

I keep a Sharpie permanent marker in my spice drawer. Each time something gets opened, I mark the date. This way is I take something from the refrigerator or pantry and it is really old, I consider whether I want to chance it or not. I do not want to waste food, but I don't want to get sick either.

For example, I use bottled garlic. I took it out the other day and it was 2.5 months old and all that was left was a small thin layer on the bottom. I tossed it and opened a new one. But the mustard that was nearly full? Used it. Oil that was nearly a year old? Used it up oiling the grill.

There are ingredients I keep to season my food that I am just not going to use to the bottom before it goes bad. Sometimes I find a substitute (how many types of wine vinegars do I really need?) and other times, that's just the way it is (Worcestershire sauce).

ceblakeney said...

Have been through multiple refrigerator clean outs this year and the take home message is DON'T MAKE SO MANY IMPULSE PURCHASES! I have actually vowed to do this very thing for the past two years but it is so hard in the clutches of a consumption driven economy.

One thing I do, when faced with the shameful need to throw stuff out that either- A.) Has Gone Bad, or B.) Will Never Be Used, is flush or compost the contents, then salvage the jar, especially if it's a really cool/funky/pretty one (those multi-sided jam/jelly jars are always reused in my house). I now have several homemade condiments or other seasonings stored in reused containers, or have recipes just waiting to go into them (homemade horseradish, anyone?)