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By Jenna Anding, Ph.D.

Caregivers tasked with preparing nutritious meals may be experiencing sticker shock. With rising food prices, many of us are looking for ways to stretch our food budgets. One place to start is by reducing the amount of food that we throw out. Studies suggest that as much as 40% of the edible food in our country is wasted. This can represent a significant amount of money!

Several factors contribute to food waste in our country. Confusion over the dates stamped on food packages is one of them. These dates may be identified with “sell-by”, “use-by”, or “best-by.” Many consumers believe foods become unsafe if they are not eaten before the date stamped on the package. However, this is not correct. In fact, for most food products, the date stamped on the package is suggested by the food manufacturer to get the best quality. The only foods required by law to have date stamps are infant formula and baby food.  Other foods can be eaten after the date if they have been handled and stored safely. There may be a loss of quality or freshness, but the food should be safe to eat.

The amount of food that we throw away at home often happens in small amounts such as uneaten leftovers, bread that molds before it is eaten, or milk that spoils before we can drink it.  Over time, however, these small amounts add up. If you are unsure how much edible food is going to waste in your home, consider keeping a list of all the foods that you throw away for one week. You may be surprised at what you discover!

Tips to Reduce Food Waste

Here are some other tips to help reduce food waste in the home:

  • Use the correct method for storing fresh produce. Visit Fruits and Veggies to learn more.
  • Keep an inventory of the foods you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Shop these areas first before going to the grocery store so you use what you have on hand first.
  • Have a use for every ingredient you put in your shopping cart. A “great deal” is no deal at all if the food goes to waste.
  • Consider using an app on your smartphone to get the most life out of the foods you buy. USDA FoodKeeper is a free app to help you get the most quality out of the foods you buy.

To learn more about how to reduce food waste in your home, contact your local county Extension agent.