According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten.
That statistic comes from all the losses, from farming, through packing, processing and distribution. A question that arises is how and why Americans waste food in their homes, and how can we preserve edibles and stretch dollars.
Casey Vaughn is a web producer at FOX Carolina. She and her roommate, Whitney, let FOX Carolina's Dana Wachter into their kitchen to track their food waste for a week.
The roommates often experiment with new recipes - some are a hit, others make for long-time leftovers.
This week, Vaughn said her leftover crock-pot beer chicken will likely hit the garbage can, just like a Tupperware of week-old green beans.
"A lot of the fresh produce will be buy one get one free, or two for five dollars. So it's like, we can eat two in a week, so let's buy them! Then we end up with four in our fridge, and we only eat one bag," said Vaughn.
According to the NRDC study, fresh foods often go bad before they're eaten. Reasons for this range from whether people make too much, their family doesn't like what was bought, or people impulse buy or buy in bulk.
Vaughn said these things happen to her. This week, she bought a large salad from Costco. She said she had been hungry and it was lunch time, so she bought the salad, expecting to eat it through the week. At the end of the week, half of it was tossed.
The study says the average American throws out 50 percent more than the average American did in the 1950's.
One reason for wasted foods may be misinterpreting label dates on packaging.
Dr. Susan Barefoot is a retired food microbiologist and professor, now she works with Clemson extension, and sheds light on those confusing printed numbers.
The "sell-by" date is the last day food can be sold, but there is still plenty of time for it to be eaten. The "use-by" is for the best quality, but the foods shouldn't be harmful for a time after that date. The expiration date is the last date the food should be eaten. Some foods, though, may last longer than the printed dates, like eggs. Barefoot said the texture may be different than if they were fresh, but "it's not a safety issue; it is a quality issue."
Barefoot said foods like lettuce can keep in the fridge for a week.
"There are some bacteria that can grow in the refrigerator, so keeping it much longer than that [and it] is a safety issue, too," said Barefoot.
Barefoot said she's an expert on ways to make fresh foods last. Clemson extension teaches folks how to can their own fruits and veggies, in a pressure cooker or water canner. Many of those can last for a year or more.
Barefoot said freezing is the safest way to keep fresh foods longest. It just may change the texture or nutritional quality of some foods. Wrapped tightly, foods, even milk or prepared casseroles or sauces, can last far longer.
That can save costs, too, said Barefoot.
The NRDC study found that the average family wastes between $1,300 and $2,200 of food a year.
Copyright 2013 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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