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Tips to prevent food waste and maintain food safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 people get foodborne illness every year in the United States. Along with the safety of food, food waste is a growing concern. It is estimated that 30-40% of food goes uneaten which equates to about 20 lb/person/month and an estimated $165 billion dollars of wasted food each year.

While consumers are not the only source of food waste, fears of food safety, confusion of product dates and improper food storage are some of the main reasons food is wasted at home.

Here are some tips to prevent food waste and maintain food safety.

Eggs sell by date
Sell by date on egg carton

Understand the product dates

Sell by date: grocery stores cannot sell this product after this date, it is not a safety date. 

Use by/ Best by date: indicates how long a product could keep for best quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. The product is still safe if stored properly, it’s just not going to be its best quality.

Download the “FoodKeeper” app on your phone

USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute developed the FoodKeeper app to help you store food and beverages appropriately. It is available for both Android and Apple devices.

Tips to keep food safe and reduce waste

Refrigerator thermometer
Keep refrigerator at 37-38 degrees F
  1. Plan your meals and write a shopping list before you go to the store. Check your fridge and pantry first so you know what foods you already have.

  2. Be aware that promotions in the store often encourage customers to buy more foods than they need or even foods that they normally don’t consume at home. As a result, many of these foods may end up in the trash.

  3. Go directly home after shopping and unload groceries immediately. Avoid over-packing the fridge and check the temperature of your fridge regularly. Set your refrigerator at 37-38 degrees F to keep foods safe.

  4. If you can’t use fresh fruits and vegetables before they spoil, freeze them for later use.

  5. Use overripe fruit and vegetables in cooked dishes like breads, soups or stews.

  6. Do not eat any food that is obviously spoiled -- abnormally soft, discolored, moldy or has a strong unpleasant smell.

Zhongxuan Shi, Extension dietetic intern and Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2021

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