Reducing Food Waste at Home

Food waste and how to reduce it is a big topic with big implications. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that food waste each year totals 133 billion pounds which includes 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels. Food is lost at all stages of the supply chain and for a variety of reasons that might include produce that is discarded because of flaws in appearance or restaurants serving large portions that may not be finished.

“Strawberries forgotten at the back of the refrigerator; now part of the food waste issue”.

“Strawberries forgotten at the back of the refrigerator; now part of the food waste issue”.
Rebecca Baxley, ©2019, Clemson Extension

With the holidays approaching, now is a good time to think about ways to reduce food waste at home. Consider the following areas:

Meal Planning: Create a menu for the week or a specific holiday event and let that be the guide for your shopping list. Try to plan meals that use some of the same ingredients, especially those that will spoil quickly.

Shopping: Start doing your part in reducing food waste and save money in the process. Approximately 25 % of the food purchased in the United States is wasted. Try buying about a quarter less food than you normally would. Stick to your list and beware of bulk deals. If it will not be used, it is waste.

Purchase produce that does not meet size, shape or color standards. Often, “imperfect” produce can be found at produce stands or farmers markets at a better price.

Leftovers: Be creative with leftover plans. A turkey pot pie or sweet potato biscuits can turn leftovers into a brand-new meal. Depending on the food, some leftovers may be stored in the freezer and eaten in the coming weeks.

If you are hosting a holiday gathering, plan ahead and have containers or resealable bags on hand so guests can take their favorite leftovers home with them. This means less for you to store.

Date Labeling: Consumer confusion over the meaning of dates applied to food products may impact food waste. “Sell by”, “Best if Used By/Before”, “Use By” are commonly used phrases that precede a date on food products. Generally, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety, but rather indicate the date for which the product will be at best quality. Be mindful that a product should not be thrown out simply because of this date. Check for signs of spoilage before consuming. Please read HGIC 3520, Safety of Stored Foods for more information on the safety of stored foods.

For more information on food waste in the United States, see HGIC 3877, Food Waste.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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