Talking Trash

By Dawna Bennett, MS, RD, CDN

Between 30 and 40 percent of food available in the United States goes uneaten – that’s as much as 20 pounds of food per person each month! Financially, this waste is significant as Americans are throwing away approximately 165 billion dollars in food annually, or $370 per person ever year.

However, this food loss and waste throughout the country doesn’t just impact our pocketbooks; it affects our natural resources and environment as well. As the world population continues to grow, there is a greater need to set goals and develop initiatives to reduce the amount of food wasted and protect our resources.

Food wasted by consumers often results from fears about food safety caused by a misunderstanding of what food product dating means, along with uncertainty about storage of perishable foods.

Here are the facts:
• A Sell by date indicates that a product should not be sold after that date if the buyer is to have it at its best quality.
• A Use by or Best by date is the maker’s estimate of how long a product will keep at its best quality.

These are quality dates only, not safety dates. If stored properly, a food product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality even after its Use by or Best by date.

The FoodKeeper, developed cooperatively by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute, is a complete guide to how long virtually every food available in the United States will keep in the pantry, the refrigerator, and the freezer. You can access the FoodKeeper App online or download it as a mobile application (available for Android and Apple phones).

Ways to Avoid Wasting Food:
• Check the temperature setting of your fridge. Use a refrigerator thermometer to be sure the temperature is at 40° F or below to keep foods safe. The temperature of your freezer should be 0° F or below.
• Check your fridge often to keep track of what you have and what needs to be used. Eat or freeze items before you need to throw them away.
• Plan meals and use shopping lists. Think about what you are buying and when it will be eaten.
• Don’t buy more food than can be used before it spoils. Avoid impulse and bulk purchases, especially with produce and dairy that have a limited shelf life.
• At the grocery store, pick up refrigerated or frozen foods just before checking out.
• Give leftovers a makeover when you reuse them in recipes. Add broccoli stems to a salad or blend overripe fruit into a smoothie.
• When eating out, become a more mindful eater. If you’re not terribly hungry, request smaller portions. Bring your leftovers home and refrigerate or freeze them within two hours.
• Become more aware of how much food you throw away and aim to reduce it.

Cutting food waste in half by 2030 is the goal of the USDA and the EPA. This goal will take a sustained commitment from everyone involved in the food system, including the food industry, non-profits, governments, and individuals. Use the tips above to do your part!