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Five gadgets to fight food waste: the good, the bad, and the ridiculous

Can consumer technology help end food waste?

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Only recently has the idea of reducing food waste moved beyond a niche concern. Gone are the days when it was solely the preoccupation of Depression-era grandparents and self-righteous dumpster divers. But it’s not like we’re reviving the can-do frugality of the pioneers — when was the last time you saw a house with a root cellar? For most people, pickling and canning are a hobby they embrace after taking a Groupon class at that crafting store downtown and abandon after the first half-sour. Even as fighting food waste has entered the mainstream consciousness 38 percent of all food in the U.S. is simply thrown away, and the average household tosses out almost $2,000 a year in wasted food.

Thankfully, corporations and entrepreneurs have noticed America’s recent (and admittedly half hearted) swing back toward food efficiency. We’re finally seeing products designed to help people do their part to eliminate the plague of food waste and stretch their dollars.

But the marriage of forward-thinking environmentalism and profit-focused tech companies isn’t always a harmonious one. Like the famous spaghetti western, some of the products out there are good, others are bad – and some are downright ugly. And we are here to let you know which is which.

FoodSaver 4800 Series Vacuum Sealer Machine

Vacuum sealers for food have been around a while, but earlier models were only so-so at actually sealing and creating a decent vacuum. More recent models are finally fulfilling manufacturers’ promises of making leftovers last (almost) forever.

Top-rated models like the FoodSaver 4800 are capable of keeping food edible and free of freezer burn for upward of four years, meaning that you could theoretically make election night pulled pork during one U.S. presidential election, vacuum-seal it, freeze it, and then enjoy it again during the next election cycle. Plus, you can use it to reseal (but not vacuum seal) Mylar and various stiff plastic bags — some potato chip bags, for example.

The cons? It’s not cheap; you can find other vacuum sealers for less than half the price. Plus, FoodSaver insists you use FoodSaver bags for vacuum sealing, since they’re made with a proprietary, five-layer, waffle-patterned material that the company says prevents air pockets and air seepage.

Finally, it doesn’t actually halt the growth of bacteria, it only slows down a certain kind. The fundamental problem of vacuum sealers is that they slow down aerobic bacteria but not anaerobic bacteria, so it’s wise to toss the bags in the freezer anyway. In a lot of ways, vacuum sealers’ best use is preventing freezer burn and making frozen food more palatable.

That said, a vacuum sealer is a relatively inexpensive and effective way to fight spoilage, keep your meals edible longer, and cut down on your household food waste.

Rating: 🪱🪱🪱 / 5

Hurom Personal Self Feeding Slow Masticating Juicer H310

This upright juicer, which looks like what would happen if Doc Brown’s Mr. Fusion got a Martha Stewart makeover, is surprisingly attractive and quiet and helps eliminate all sorts of food scraps (including those impossible-to-use fibrous ones like the end pieces of root vegetables). It doesn’t take up a lot of counter space (4 inches in diameter), yet its self-feeding hopper can ingest whole apples. It’s got a chamber that Hurom says is easy to clean — instead of using a traditional, troublesome strainer system, it uses interlocking augers that strain the juice for maximum yield without letting pulp pass through. Hurom makes a big deal of its slow-juicing speeds — 43 revolutions per minute, which the company claims mimics hand-squeezed quality and keeps juices fresher longer.

But here’s the dirty little secret about green juice: If you love it, you really love it. And if you don’t, it can taste like someone squeezed all the dregs from your sink strainer down your throat and then charged you $10 for it. No matter how great your juicer is, nothing’s going to convert a non-juicehead into accepting the liquid form of week-old kale and radish ends, short of the kinds of sugar-laden add-ons that invalidate a big part of the whole exercise.

So if you’re someone who loves green juices and healthy veggie smoothies, the Hurom Personal Self-Feeding Slow Masticating Juicer is a waste-eliminating godsend. But if you’re not, you’ve just spent a few hundred dollars (yes, it costs seven times as much as a Mini Juicer from Target) on a dust-and-grease trap for that weird-shaped cabinet above your range.

Rating: 🪱🪱 / 5

Lomi Bloom composter

Pela, a British Columbian company, claims its popular Lomi home composters can reduce a household’s food waste by 80 percent. The Lomi Bloom’s a countertop composter that uses heat and grinders to turn food waste into compost quickly and, supposedly, without too much stink. After four hours or so, a tub full of moldy fruit, eggshells, and other food scraps becomes a couple handfuls of dry, mulch-like plant food. The composter uses carbon filters, which the company says are “crucial for optimal performance” and to reduce odors, and LomiPods, for “enhancing the breakdown process” and adding microbes to your mulch to give plants an extra boost.

The downside? The Lomi comes with enough of its proprietary carbon filters and LomiPods for 45 cycles, or roughly three months. So the company, in true 2020s corporate fashion, encourages you to buy the Lomi as part of a membership. If you do, you get $200 off the Bloom’s purchase price of $600. The company occasionally offers deals on membership subscriptions, but the quarterly price seems to hover around $25, or about $100 per year. So, yeah, this is basically another subscription service.

Rating: 🪱🪱 / 5

LFC Biodigester

On paper, the LFC biodigester, the brainchild of California-based Power Knot LLC, looks like the answer to all your food-waste-eliminating dreams. You simply open its door, toss in your scraps, and the fully automatic biodigester does all the work, converting everything organic into gray water you can pour down the drain. And it all gets done within 24 hours.But note that it’s about the size and shape of a commercial kitchen’s chest freezer. So unless you have a restaurant-scale kitchen, you’re going to have to do some serious reconfiguring.

And it’s always a red flag when a company doesn’t reveal the prices of its products on its website. I found the smallest model listed on a third-party retailer’s website for 1,000 euros, but Power Knot asks that you contact them directly and speak to one of their representatives for an official price quote.

The LFC Biodigester would make a great Chekhov’s gun for the next Knives Out murder mystery, but it’s a bad idea for a home kitchen.

Rating: 🪱 / 5

Mantry Chicken Coop

Sometimes the most effective solutions to food waste are the simplest and most time-tested, even if you add a high-tech spin. In other words, let the chickens eat your food waste, and, while you’re at it, stop propping up factory farming and cut down on the excess packaging and lack of freshness you get with supermarket eggs.

Nicknamed “the Tesla of chicken coops” (probably before Elon Musk bought Twitter), the Mantry has a high-quality frame and bars to keep chickens in and predators out, easy-to-clean, compostable litter trays, and 1080-pixel-cameras so you can keep an eye on your flock.

Assuming you actually have the yard space for this, the most difficult issue you’ll have to overcome is explaining to your therapist why you’re helicopter-parenting chickens.

Rating: 🪱🪱🪱🪱 / 5

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