Food waste is a big issue in the U.S. Here's how to cut down

John Gregory Image
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
How do reduce food waste this holiday season
The date on packaging doesn't mean you should throw away your food. Knowing what the date means could help you reduce your food waste.v

Thanksgiving may be over, but you likely still have some leftovers in the fridge. Hopefully, they make it onto your plate, rather than in the garbage.

Advocates predict more than 300 million pounds of meat, casserole and pie got tossed over the Thanksgiving holiday.

And even more will go uneaten as we get closer to Christmas.

"Food waste is definitely a continuing issue in the United States. About one third of all food that's produced is actually never eaten. Nobody actually eats that food," Ohio State University Professor Brian Roe said. "And if you take that a step deeper, what that means is that roughly that 1,250 calories of food per person per day that isn't eaten takes up about 30 million acres of land.

Experts say one way to cut down on food waste is knowing when food is still good, and when it needs to be tossed.

Recent research from Ohio State University reveals that consumers often discard good food, like milk, based on date labels. They say it's important to understand the "best by", "use by" or "sell by" label doesn't necessarily mean it's expired.

"Those dates, except for a few circumstances, typically refer to a peak quality date, meaning that after that date, food is still edible, but the quality might be declining somewhat," Roe explained.

There are a few exceptions to that rule.

"Those are typically things like deli meats and soft cheeses where there's not a cooking or a kill step, after you open the food item, where those dates can be pretty important in terms of food safety and should be used to guide that," Roe added.

Rather than rely solely on the label, use your senses. Does it smell a little off? Or does that condiment look watery? If not, it may not be ready to go in the garbage.

"Give it a second chance, particularly if it's a shelf stable item," Roe said. "Even things like milk, which has been pasteurized. Those dates are more about the quality than the safety of the food."

Some other tips to cut down on waste:

  • Organize your fridge so you can see foods that will expire soon.
  • Aim to cook and serve the right portions for the number of people you are feeding.
  • Freeze, pickle, dehydrate, can or make jams, jellies, even baked goods from surplus fruits and vegetables -- especially abundant seasonal produce.
  • Don't leave perishable food at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers in clear, labeled containers with dates.
  • If the food does go bad, composting is a good way to recycle, rather than waste it.

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