We throw away 14 percent of the food bought in the U.S. That adds up to about $1,000 to $2,000 a year for an average family of four (The range depends on whether the family uses a thrifty food plan or a more liberal one, and is based on September 2008 food prices).
With rising fuel and food prices, you may be wasting even more money.
How can you stop wasting food and save money. Follow these tips:
Plan meals focusing on using foods you already have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer.
Plan to buy a little less refrigerated perishable foods than you think your family will eat before it spoils. Instead, buy a few extra nonperishable foods. For example, buy the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that you can eat within two or three days. Buy dried, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables to use until you shop again.
Chicken should be cooked or frozen within two days of purchase. Shellfish and fresh fish are best used the day purchased. Discarding raw meat that has spoiled is a big waste of money.
Plan portion sizes based on nutrition guidelines, especially for the more expensive food items in your meals. By cutting down on huge portions, you save money, calories and you have more food to serve later.
Plan for "planned-overs." Make your menu do double duty. You will sometimes have more product than a recipe calls for. Have a plan for using these foods, such as the extra half can of some food. You could add them to a soup, or possibly freeze them for later use.
Be creative in using leftovers. You are throwing money in the trash when you throw away unused or spoiled food.
Don't buy an item just because it is on sale if you will not eat it before it spoils. Look closely at the dates on some "manager" specials. Sometimes these foods, especially perishable foods, will expire in just a couple of days.
Do the "food patrol"
Don't waste food by leaving it out at room temperatures too long. No refrigerated food should be kept at room temperature for more than two hours. After that, it is no longer safe to eat.
Avoid buying perishable foods that aren't in your menu plan. Or adjust your meal plan if you do buy perishables that you didn't originally plan to get.
Forgotten food is more likely to spoil. Check your refrigerator and pantry daily for perishable foods that need to be used soon. Keep these foods in clear containers that you can see through.
Serve foods before they spoil. Or, if possible, preserve perishable items by freezing them.
Serve foods such as fresh bread, fruits and vegetables that are just a little past their best quality in creative ways. Examples are: Make stale bread into croutons to top a salad. Cut up mushy bananas and spongy apples and add them to pancakes, muffins or quick bread recipes. Grate or chop rubbery carrots and add them to your spaghetti sauce. You can boil most vegetables and add them to soup.
Throw away spoiled food. If you see mold on any food it should be discarded. Remember, if in doubt, throw it out.
Store foods correctly
When it comes to storing eggs they last longer when kept in their carton in the center of the refrigerator and not in the compartments on the door which is continuously exposed to warm air.
Fruits, vegetables and cheese last longer when they are not pre-cut or pre-sliced.
Most fruit will stay fresher longer in the refrigerator.
Freezing bread and meat in the packaging they come in doesn't always do the trick. The plastic is thin and is not moisture-resistant. Putting these foods in a freezer bag or containers will keep them a lot fresher. There is also less of a chance of freezer burn.
Adapted from: Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service.
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.