Can You Compost Cooked Food and Vegetables?

There is this common riddle, ‘do we eat to live or live to eat?’ Regardless of your answer, we have to eat to live, and we have to live to eat. Eating gives our bodies the energy required to perform everyday tasks and is the process through which children grow to be healthy and strong adults.

Some of the common foods we eat include vegetables, meat, fruits, nuts and cereals, among others. Some of these foods have to be cooked using butter or cooking oil, some have to be boiled, some steamed and some eaten raw. So what do you do with your excess or waste food? Should you throw it away or possibly compost it? This article looks into composting cooked foods.

cooked-vegetables

Can Cooked Food Be Composted?

Yes, virtually all cooked food can be composted. The general rule of thumb is that anything that can be eaten can be composted. However, most general composting guidelines recommend against composting cooked foods.

If you are therefore intent on composting cooked food, you have to be quite experienced, or at least employ the services of a qualified composter. Cooked scraps, plate scrapings, meats, fats, and dairy present challenges that many “casual composters” won’t be prepared to handle.

Cooked foods have the power to invite and attract pests. These pests, including bees, rats, biting flies, and even bears, are attracted to the smell of the food as well as the smell produced from the composting bin while the food rots away.

Once they arrive, they infest the composting bin and bring in new problems. If your bin is not tightly closed, they might manage to enter and cause a lot of harm, not forgetting to dirty your compound.

Cooked food, as alluded to above, smells bad when rotting. Meats, fats, and dairy, in particular, can give off putrid odors as they break down. Plant scraps, on the other hand, tend not to cause as much of a stink, although stinking is part of the process. The smell is what attracts the pests to the compost.

Cooked food also can turn to mush, easily putrefying and turning mushy and gross. It is not only unpleasant but interferes with the proper aeration of the pile. It is this process that produces foul odors that can render an entire compound uninhabitable.

Cooked food can also make a compost go anaerobic. Decomposing meats can produce anaerobic bacteria, which is the archenemy of a normal, aerobic compost pile. These bacteria can interfere with the composting process and cause problems with odors and acidity.

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The other challenge with composting cooked food is that it requires high heat to kill the harmful bacteria and break down proteins and fats. Your compost pile, therefore, needs to heat properly, a process that requires attention and maintenance.

Can You Compost Cooked Rice?

Of course, you can compost cooked rice. When added to a compost pile, cooked rice will decompose with ease. As with other types of food, cooked rice that has been steamed or boiled will rot quickly and go through the same rotting and moulding stages as other foods.

If you consider the nutritional value of rice, it is mainly carbohydrate with some amount of protein. Some people choose to consider rice as green material; however, there is not sufficient nitrate to categorize rice as ‘green’. Since rice is high carb with some nitrate content, it is better to consider it as a balanced food as far as composting is concerned.

As such, if you only had cooked rice in your composting bin, you can convert it to compost without the need to add anything else to it. However, adding hydrated white lime to the pile can help reduce the chances of any acidity occurring while the rice decomposes.

However, if the rice does not break down quickly, probably because of a compost that has been constituted improperly, the rice will turn into a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Additionally, if the cooked rice contains oil and sauces, then you will have the additional problem of unwelcome visitors like rodents and insects to your compost heap.

While pests may not be such a deal-breaker, hazardous bacteria may be the key reason why most people prefer to avoid composting cooked rice. The other challenge with composting rice is that the rice grains are quite small and can become quite sticky when wet, causing them to clump together when put into the compost pile. The rice can also become anaerobic, which turns it into an unpleasant, smelly pile

Can You Compost Cooked Meat?

Can you compost cooked meat? Yes. Should you? That depends.

Meat in compost is an organic material, making it an excellent candidate for composting, as well as other meat scraps. Meat in compost is high in nitrogen and, as such, tends to facilitate the breaking down of the pile.

However, the situation is a bit more complicated than that. First, composting meat will undoubtedly invite nosy pests like rats and raccoons, as well as dogs. If they infiltrate the compost, they will make a mess out of it, dirtily your compound and possibly spread diseases. As such, always ensure you lock your composting bin tightly. If you do not have one, consider not composting cooked meat entirely.

Secondly, composting meat can encourage and harbor pathogens. If your compost is not hot enough to kill the pathogens, they will thrive inside the compost and bring about other issues. The bacteria E. coli, for instance, can live for up to two years and needs to be eradicated properly.

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Thirdly, composting meat is always accompanied by stinky smells, that are off-putting to humans, but very exciting for the pests mentioned above. You should therefore mix the meat in the hot compost where there is a high temperature.

Fortunately, cooked meat tends to break down more quickly than raw meat and can therefore be less offensive. So, if you decide to compost meat scraps, make sure the compost is turned frequently and ensure the meat is within the interior of the pile.

Also, the amount of composting meat should only be a very small percentage of the entire make-up of the compost.

Can You Compost Processed Food?

Of course, you can compost processed foods. They are organic and proper additions to the compost. Another advantage is that they might not contain too much grease or cooking oil. Grease in the composting bin hampers its proper function as it might coat other organic materials with the water-resistant barrier, significantly reducing airflow and slowing down the decomposition process.

Processed foods also contain ingredients that make them unhealthy for consumption. These ingredients also ensure the food stays for long before going bad. They might affect the composting bin, ensuring the food does not decompose quickly. However, with tight conditions, like in the middle of the pile where it is hot, the processed food will decompose just right.

Unfortunately, whether the food is cooked or processed, it will attract vermin and pests. The pests are attracted to the compost by the foul smell that comes from composting food scraps. You, therefore, have to take extra precaution when composting all foods, processed or not. the precaution is to close the bin or use a compost tumbler.

You should also place the food in the centre of the pile, so that it produces less smells, and also decomposes quite quickly. Another issue with processed foods is that they might not contribute to either the greens or browns required in the compost.

They are just organic materials that can decompose but offer less to the makeup of the compost. However, they will be fine when added to the garden.

Is It Bad to Put Cooked Food in the Compost?

No, it is not bad to put cooked food in the compost. However, such a decision will be accompanied by several issues, that have to be properly handled, otherwise, the process will turn out bad.

First, cooked foods, especially cooked meats, can make the entire process go anaerobic. Composting is an aerobic process and an anaerobic reaction will hamper the whole composting process. Meats can produce bacteria that interfere with the composting process, causing problems with acidity and odors.

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Secondly, it is difficult to understand if the cooked food will add to the carbon or nitrogen components required in the compost. The majority will be an organic matter which is fine inside the composting bin but might have little addition to either the greens or the browns.

Thirdly, when cooked food is decomposing, it produces foul odors. Plant scraps like vegetables might not be so badly off as they produce less of the stink. However, meats, fats and dairy, in particular, give off putrid odors as they break down. These odors are what attract pests to the mix.

Fourthly, is the pests. The rats, bees, biting flies and raccoons are attracted to any type of food, cooked or not. They will be attracted to the compost and will do anything to get in. as such, you have to use a composting bin that can be enclosed. Otherwise, the pests will do more harm than good.

Finally, cooked food is avoided because of the cooking fats used. Cooking oil is heavily discouraged inside a composting bin because it attracts vermin. It can also coat your organic materials with a water-resistant barrier, which reduces airflow and slows down the decomposition process. Compost cooking oil and grease only if you are using hot compost, or if it is not too much.

What Food Scraps are Good For Compost?

All food scraps are good for compost. Fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, bread, unbleached paper napkins, coffee filters, eggshells, meats and newspaper can be composted.

The rule of thumb when it comes to composting is that if it can be eaten or grown in a field or garden, it can be composted. Items such as red meat, bones and small amounts of paper are acceptable, although they take longer to decompose.

They might also release bacteria that might hamper the composting process, so extra caution is warranted. Food waste has unique properties as a raw compost agent. They possess a high moisture content and low physical structure. They should therefore be mixed with some fresh kitchen waste

The issue with food scraps is that first, they release stinky and foul odors as they decompose. These smells can make a place uninhabitable by humans. However, they are the ones that attract pests. This is the second issue with composting food scraps, as they invite rats, biting flies, raccoons, and other pests.

These nosy can do anything to get inside the composting bin and may cause some havoc there. If you have to compost food scraps, make sure the composter is well aerated, is well hydrated and is turned occasionally.

This will lead to a quick composting process, that will not attract these nosy pests. Also, consider consulting an expert because some food scraps might cause more problems than anticipated.

References:

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-processed-foods

https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1189

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.