NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Do you ever throw out food?

Food Waste, Food Product Dates

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

Do you ever throw out food? Are the dates and other terminology on packages sometimes confusing?

If you answer “yes” to either question, you are not alone. About 1 out of every 3 pounds of food is wasted. Dairy foods are thrown out more often than any other food. Often, the foods are still safe to eat, but consumers are confused by the dates on the packages.

Throwing away food is like dropping money in the trash. In fact, the average person wastes at least 1.1 pounds of food daily. For a family of four, that adds up to 1,606 pounds of food ending up in the landfill every year.

According to a 2014 survey with 1,010 respondents from throughout the U.S., 42 percent had heard about food waste and 24 percent said they were very knowledgeable about food waste. The respondents cited saving money, setting an example for their children and managing their household efficiently as motivators to avoid tossing food.

They also were motivated to curtail food waste when they thought about people with not enough food. Most reported they felt guilty about wasting food.

What Do Food Product Dates Mean?

The “sell by” date is the last date the store can display the item in the refrigerated case. As long as the food is stored and handled properly, foods can be used safely at home beyond the date.

You might see “Use by,” “Sell by” or “Best if used by” on packages. These are “quality” dates, not “expiration” dates. With the exception of baby formula, food product dates are not about food safety.

Food dates are included on most foods, but except for infant formula, food dates are not required by federal regulations. In fact, confusion about food product dates probably is responsible for a lot of foods being tossed while they still are safe to eat. Stored properly, food often is safe to use for several days or longer beyond the date.  The Food Storage Guide FN579 is available at the Extension office or online at www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/food-storage-guide-answers-the-question/fn579.pdf

Try these tips to trim food waste in your home:

  • Develop a meal plan. Use leftovers as other meals, such as breakfast or lunch.
  • Shop your refrigerator. Plan to make a meal with what you have and pick up added ingredients.
  • Try to keep on hand a well-rounded selection of food and food ingredients, such as pasta, flour, sugar, bread, canned vegetables, vegetable oils, eggs, spices and other canned goods.
  • Create grocery lists. Shop sales and write down everything you need.
  • Re-purpose food. Try making a dish into something else: Use leftover meat as a pizza topping or make a breakfast omelet with leftover veggies.
  • Freeze the excess. Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “Food Preservation.”
  • Consider frozen vs. fresh. If you are not using fresh produce before it spoils, try frozen instead.
  • Organize cabinets with the first-in, first-out system so you use the oldest items first.

Visit www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm to learn more about national efforts to trim food waste.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist

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