If you find yourself throwing away groceries, you are not alone. American households throw out roughly 150,000 tons of food every day. First to go is fruits and vegetables, followed by meat and dairy.
You are Throwing Away Your Money
According to Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the National Resources Defense Council, this equals about $165 billion in wasted food every year. That’s a lot of money!
Aside from the terrible waste of food that could go to feed the hungry, throwing away groceries means that you are throwing away money every month that could be used to pay bills, reduce debt and invest in savings.
There are Easy Ways to Save Money on Groceries
In previous articles, we talked about how to save money on your grocery bill. Things, like conducting an inventory, making a list, buying only what you know you will eat, leaving the kids at home, and even ordering online, are strategies that will help you save money on groceries.
BUT an even bigger way to save money is to stop throwing away groceries.
One of the chief reasons that consumers say they throw out food is because it is past the “expiration” date. In fact, according to the Harvard study, approximately 80% of American consumers may be throwing away food because of confusion about the meaning of the dates printed on the packaging.
By understanding the meaning and purpose of these dates, you can stop throwing away your groceries and enjoy some immediate savings.
The first thing to know is that the dates printed on food products are not regulated by the federal government. Probably your state requires at least one date label, but there is no single authority overseeing the application of these dates. This means that each food vendor is free to set his own standards. The vendor has full discretion over what date to use.
What do the Dates Mean?
Unless you are buying your groceries at local farmers’ markets, your food is in packaging that gives you at least three different dates: (1) Sell by (2) Best Before and (3) Use by. You might find a “best if used by” date for food that is perfectly fine to consume even after the date.
The “Sell by” date is for stores. This is the last date which the vendor advises the food item should be displayed on the shelves. The “sell by” date has nothing to do with whether the groceries are bad for consumption.
Many non-profit agencies have developed outreach programs to supermarkets to capture the groceries they are throwing away according to the “sell by” date. If you happen to buy something that is past the “sell by” date, you have nothing to worry about.
The “Best Before”, “Best if Used by” dates are set by food manufacturers according to their estimate of when they think the food item has reached its peak taste.
And how do they know this, you wonder?
Larger manufacturers conduct taste tests with a panel of volunteers. They provide a food item one, two, three, etc. days following production and when they reach the time that a taster says it doesn’t taste fresh to them, this becomes the date. Other producers use laboratory tests. Smaller companies who cannot afford either of these two methods make a guess as to when their product is no longer as tasty.
The “Use by” date is primarily for perishable products which might spoil after a period of some time. It is recommended that you consume these products before the “use by” date.
How to Stop Throwing Away Groceries
Therefore, with so much of date labeling being rather subjective, or at least suggestive, how do you avoid throwing away your groceries for no reason?
- The first thing you can do to avoid wasting money is to be careful about food storage. Read the packaging to learn how the product is to be stored.
- Check the temperature gauge in your refrigerator. Be sure you have it set to a temperature cold enough to keep your perishables at maximum protection. If you have an old refrigerator, buy a thermometer to track the temperature.
- Along these same lines, make it a daily habit to check your refrigerator for perishable items. Move older purchases to the front and put the new stuff in the back or underneath.
- Examine the product’s ingredients to see if sodium lactate or potassium diacetate is listed. If so, then the food is protected from the growth of listeria, something that can cause early spoilage.
- Use the sniff test. Examine your food. If it doesn’t look good or has a bad odor, you don’t want to eat it. Look for slime and other growth. On meats, this is not a good sign. However, on other foods, such as cheese, for instance, mold may grow, but you can easily wash it away and enjoy the cheese.
- When you are planning what to make for supper, think about what you will do with the leftovers. If you are not going to use the leftovers right away, put them in the freezer rather than the refrigerator. For instance, leftover turkey or chicken makes great soup.
Bottom line: Stop throwing away groceries, Start saving money!