- Create a roommate ‘food communication’ plan.
- Organize the fridge to reduce food thrown out by mistake.
- If he thought it was a health hazard, store drippy or smelly foods in well-sealed containers.
- If your roommate is a declutter, hide your food in unseen sections.
For all 7 tips and full details on them, please read on.
You come home late from work, tired and hungry. You open the refrigerator and look for those leftovers which you were planning to heat and eat. They are nowhere to be found.
Grumbling, you decide to make an egg or use your ‘emergency’ frozen food. When you come to throw away the egg shell or the packaging, you find your leftovers. Your roommate has thrown them away. What?!?!
This common problem is very frustrating. Fortunately, between my research and my own, personal experience, I’ve got solutions you can try depending on the reason your roommate threw out your food.
This guide will show you what to do about it and how to make sure your roommate doesn’t throw out your food again!
1. Stopping your roommate from throwing out your food because they think it’s a health hazard
Be truthful now… Perhaps you forgot about this food, leaving it to ‘develop’ in the refrigerator. Rotting food is a health hazard because it “can cause a growth of bacteria which can then spread to other food in the fridge and surrounding areas.”
Maybe the food was moldy or had passed its ‘use by’ date. It could be that the food smelled or was downright rancid. Perhaps it was sour or there were ‘things’ crawling all over it.
Data on the World Health Organization Food Safety Fact Sheet present a disturbing ‘menu.’ They estimate that globally, roughly 1 in 10 people get sick from eating contaminated food (bad food) each year. Annual deaths from contaminated food are 420,000 worldwide.
So, instead of being angry at your roommate, you might need to be grateful. Your roommate throwing out your food might have saved you a trip to the doctor…or worse.
You might be annoyed though that your roommate threw out something you planned to eat.
Two solutions to prevent this from happening in the future
Option 1: Meet up with your roommate at a set time every week and go through your food.
Every week, such as at 6 pm each Sunday, you go through everything in the refrigerator together. You check what’s still good and which may have gone bad, and you agree on what you need to throw away.
If there are differences of opinion, you can discuss them face-to-face.
Meeting this way means there’s proper communication, which helps to avoid any mistakes.
Option 2: Your roommate puts things that they think have gone bad in a separate area of the refrigerator. They’re thrown out if unclaimed after 5 days.
Each time your roommate sees some food that they think has gone bad, they put it in this particular part of the refrigerator called the ‘temporary throw-away area.’
We used to put things in there, knowing that 5 days is enough for anyone to see it, throw it out, or put it back in their section. For example, we would put items in there on a Monday and throw them out on Saturday.
If you reclaim an item, you should discuss your decision with your roommate. Perhaps it would be best to try and finish ‘debatable’ food.
Select a place in the refrigerator that’s easy to see each time you open the door, but is separate from the rest of the food. This is to try and prevent cross-contamination.
Don’t use the bottom drawer for this. Although it’s correct for stopping cross-contamination, as it’s closed and out of sight, roommates often forget that it’s there and to check the things inside it. On the other hand, if it is important to you, you could make it a habit to check this space.
Alternatively, try a bottom shelf in the door where the contents are easy to see.
Either of these solutions give you proper communication with your roommate, so you will not feel your roommate is throwing out your stuff, and you have no control.
If you have the time, effort and are a very detail oriented household,
You could try this system, but for most people, this is so much work and so complicated that they will stop using it.
Make it clear when the item will be thrown away. Your roommate writes the ‘throw by date’ and the hour on a small sticky note and sticks it to the food item or food container and puts in the ‘temporary throw away area’.
The ‘throw by date’ is that day’s date + 5.
The hour is the time the item was placed in the ‘temporary throw-away area.’ I think that’s so over the top; people will soon stop or give up on the system.
Here’s an example:
It is July 10 at 4 pm. Your roommate puts a container of pasta in the ‘temporary throw-away area’.
The sticky note says: July 15, 4 pm.
So, you have until July 15 at 3:59 pm to reclaim (and hopefully use) your food.
2. Your roommate threw out your food because he or she is a compulsive declutterer.
Decluttering (getting rid of clutter or mess) is a good thing. Yet, it can turn into an obsession in which the person cannot stand any mess at all. This condition is called “obsessive-compulsive Spartanism: being unable to handle mess.”
Might your roommate suffer from this condition? If so, your roommate threw away your food because it was making the fridge untidy. This could be problematic as your roommate could be getting rid of perfectly edible food.
Looking around the internet, I found the following post: a young woman complained that her roommate threw out food which she had just cooked. The roommate saw the woman preparing the food, so she knew it was fresh. Yet, out it went. This irrational behavior could be an example of compulsive decluttering.
If you suspect that your food-throwing roommate might be suffering from this condition, it would be a good idea to speak to them about it gently. You could even suggest that they investigate this possibility with their healthcare provider.
To keep your food from getting on their nerves (and having it thrown out), you use parts of the refrigerator that are out of sight
A bit like how a lot of neat freaks often have a hoarding place that’s out of sight, you have the bottom drawers in the refrigerator.
Also, by having your separate areas, it’s clearer which are your sections and which are theirs. Your roommate doesn’t have permission to move around your food within those areas.
It’s clearly your territory!
3. Your roommate doesn’t like your food choices
I read about one young man who feels his roommates throw away his food because they don’t like his eating habits.
The young man is vegan. He reports that over time, his roommates have become more and more hostile about his food choices.
They openly make insulting comments such as wanting to “take you out for a nice steak dinner…[to] make a man out of you yet”.
Everyone has the right to eat what they want (within reasonable limits, of course). If your roommate is not respecting this right, you should discuss it with them.
If this is not enough, you may need to take stronger action such as a separate fridge with a lock on it.
This young man said that his roommates regularly got rid of his food. This was difficult for him money-wise because he didn’t have enough money to keep replacing his food often. So, an investment in separate storage might be cheaper in the long run.
In the above case, the roommate, whose food was being thrown out was vegan. But what if it was the reverse? There are loads of solutions such as:
- Using the bottom drawer for your animal products, so that nothing can drip down/spill onto their food.
- Putting things in sealed containers, so the contents aren’t visible, and no smells get out.
Check out the very carefully researched article on this website with detailed information on how to live with vegan roommates.
4. Stopping your roommate throwing out your food by mistake
I heard about three roommates and a moldy box of blackberries. One roommate noticed the box. He asked the others if it was theirs before throwing it away. Both said it wasn’t.
Mistakes do happen. All of us have thrown things away by accident because we weren’t paying proper attention to what we were doing…and not just food items either.
Ask your roommate. If it was a genuine mistake, perhaps you should let it go….this time.
How to organize areas in the refrigerator, so everyone knows whose food is whose
Even if there are only two of you sharing your apartment, people get confused and forget whose area is whose. It’s especially tricky with all the stuff in the refrigerator door.
When there’s more of you, it can get impossible to keep track of everyone’s food and be organized, unless you have a system that everyone regularly works on to make sure it doesn’t fall apart.
There’s often one person who’s less tidy or doesn’t care. As a result, they may fail to keep track of their food. They may need help to get it right, so their food items don’t get mixed in with everyone else’s.
Make sure you don’t part share any shelves, such as one roommate having the left-hand side and the other having the right of the same shelf. I tried that with my roommate. It started well but eventually, the lines blurred — so separate shelves for each.
Keep it simple, such as one person has the lower shelves, and the other has the higher ones.
The problem starts when your roommate thinks food has gone bad, and it’s a massive mission for them to ask around and work out whose food it is.
How to organize whose food is whose
Labeling food: Probably only do this for things which could go bad; however, not my favorite method because it’s a lot of work, and the labels can come off.
Labeling shelves: A good idea; make sure you still keep separation of the shelves simple though, such as one of you having the higher shelves and the other having the lower ones.
Putting a note by the refrigerator to show whose shelves are whose: My favorite method because it’s quick, simple, and easy to do.
Communally sharing food: Depends on both of your characteristics. If this could work for you, please read this thorough guide on roommate food rules which will tell you everything you need to know.
5. Make sure you have enough food containers
Strange as it sounds, roommates have been known to throw out their roomie’s food because they needed the container for their food.
Also if your food is in a sealed container, then if it goes bad, it will worry your roommate less as it’s sealed off from their food. In other words, the liquids, smell, etc. can’t get out.
Just get LOTS of food containers. These days, there are a wide variety of suitable containers which are not very expensive.
Dollar stores are a great place to start your search. You can also get even more creative (and eco-minded) by reusing containers of all sorts: glass spaghetti sauce jars; plastic containers from the olives you bought in the deli section; resealable, rice or frozen vegetable bags; etc.
6. Is getting rid of your food without your permission ‘stealing’?
Technically, it could be. However, for many reasons, the police are not going to do anything about it. Read our article about this.
7. Your roommate did it out of anger
Your roommate might have thrown away your food because he or she was angry at you about something. True, not an adult way to handle things, but people can do silly things when they aren’t thinking clearly.
However, throwing out someone else’s food because you are angry could be seen as a violent act.
Do you think it is a one-time deal? Can you speak with your roommate and get things back on the right track? Do you think you two can find a better solution for next time?
Does your roommate have anger management issues in which case you may need to use techniques for how to deal with angry people.
If for any reason, you feel that this could be a sign that things have gone south beyond repair, move out immediately.