We Throw Away Half of All Food We Buy — And This Might Be Why

We all know that a bag of mixed greens aspirationally purchased on Sunday is going to be a bag of brown slime come Thursday, but what about the rest of the food we throw out? A new study shows that Americans waste almost 50% of all food they buy, and though food visibly going bad is one of the reasons we toss things, it turns out that our non-standardized, super-confusing expiration dates are the real culprit behind all of our at-home food waste.

Though 60 percent of food loss happens before the product even reaches the store, 40 percent happens at the retail level and in our homes. Stores throw away a lot of produce that doesn’t fit the bill aesthetically, but other items, like dairy, meat, and shelf-stable goods, often get tossed because no one can figure out if they’ve gone bad or not by looking at the labels.

You’ve probably found yourself there before, checking your fridge and puzzling over the difference between “sell by,” “best before,” “use by,” and “exp.” If a food is past the date on the label, is it safe to eat? Well, it seems that a lot of people err on the side of safety, and end up throwing the food away rather than chancing it.

One solution? Some propose making a standardized system that will help people figure out if their food is safe to eat, with food labels featuring one date that tells you when the product will taste best, and one date that indicates the product will truly no longer be safe to eat. Advocates hope this will help quell some of the fears associated with eating food that’s been in the fridge a little longer than might be ideal.

Until then, experts suggest being a little more open-minded when it comes to using foods that are past the date on their packaging (with deli meat and soft cheeses being the exception). If your jam is past its expiration date by a couple of weeks but there’s no mold, and it smells, looks, and tastes normal, it’s probably safe to eat. And hey, a wobbly carrot from your malfunctioning crisper drawer can be chopped up and added to soup and no one will know the difference – a pretty easy decision to make if it means keeping your food out of the landfill.

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