Did you know that up to 40 percent of the food in the U.S. is wasted? While waste can and does occur all along the food supply chain, consumers are the largest contributors. We throw away an estimated 15 to 25 percent of all food purchased, which can total about 133 billion pounds, or 300 pounds per person each year.
For a family of four, that means they throw out an average of $1,484 worth of edible food per year. That’s a big bite out of your family’s budget!
Food waste also has a lasting negative impact on our environment and communities. When food breaks down in landfills, it produces a greenhouse gas called methane, which contributes to climate change. On top of that, the natural resources such as land, water and energy used to produce unused food are wasted. And, finally, some of that wasted food could have gone to food banks to help meet the dietary needs of families in our communities.
So, what can you do to reduce food waste in your home? One place to start is with dairy products. Of the total food waste, 19 percent, or 25.4 million pounds, comes from dairy products.
Understanding the “Sell by” and “Best by” dates on dairy labels can help you enjoy products at their freshest, as well as prevent prematurely tossing those products that are still safe, nutritious and tasty. Here are a few tips to decode those dairy labels.
The “Sell by” date is the last day the grocery store should sell the product. You should buy the product on or before this date. But what does this mean once you get dairy products home? When properly stored in the refrigerator, dairy products can be safely consumed beyond the “Sell by” date:
- Milk can be used up to one week past this date.
- Soft cheese can last one to four weeks after the “Sell by” date.
- Hard cheeses can be consumed one to 10 months after this date.
- Enjoy yogurt for up to 10 days after the “Sell by” date.
The “Best by,” “Best if Used by” and “Use by” dates indicate the recommended timing in which you should consume products for the best flavor and optimal quality. These are not safety dates. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product may still be safe to use if handled properly.
How do you know when it’s time to toss milk, cheese or yogurt?
- Discard dairy products that develop an off flavor, odor or appearance.
- Mold found on hard cheese should be removed by cutting off a one-inch square around the affected area and discarding it. The rest is safe to eat.
- If mold appears on softer cheese or yogurt, the product should be thrown away.
Taking a few simple steps to reduce food waste in your home can benefit your budget, the environment and your community. What steps can you take today to reduce wasted food in your household?