I’m all about consuming the freshest food possible, but let’s face it, many people are on a tight budget. In fact, many of the people I coach will use the excuse to eat processed food and fast food simply because they can’t afford to buy fresh produce. Notice I said “excuse”. It may surprise you to learn that one of the biggest reasons Americans throw out so much food is that we’re inclined to pay too much attention to the “sell by” and “use before” dates stamped on food packaging. Many people believe that after the date at issue, the food may be unsafe or spoiled. A report from the NRDC and Harvard Law School estimates that 91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on “sell by” or “best before” dates, a mistake that costs the average household between $600 and $1500 per year. So what do those labels tell us?
- “Sell by” is not a message meant for consumers. Its purpose is to remind store managers that if the item isn’t sold by a certain date, it might not have much shelf life once a shopper takes it home. If you have dumped food from your fridge because the “sell by” date has passed, chances are you’ve thrown out something that is perfectly good. If you’re in doubt, give it the smell test to see if it really is spoiled. If the “sell by” date was only a few days ago, you can be pretty sure the food is safe to eat.
- “Best before” dates are meant for consumers, but they tell you nothing about when a food will be spoiled or unsafe to eat. They’re just a manufacturer’s best guess of when the food will no longer be at peak quality. One good idea suggested by the team that produced the NRDC/Harvard report is putting “freeze by” dates on perishable foods. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely. You can freeze fresh produce and leftovers as well as meat, fish and poultry if you won’t have the chance to eat them before they go bad.
I cringed when I saw that 52 percent of the fresh fruit and vegetables consumers buy goes into the garbage. They’re the basis of The Omni Diet* and The Brain Warrior’s Way*, the foods we all need for the abundance of illness-fighting nutrients they provide. Here’s what I suggest for reining in food waste at home:
- Some of that waste may be due to over-enthusiastic shopping when you’re confronted by a tempting array of colorful fruits and veggies and then can’t consume all you’ve bought before they begin to go bad. Stick to your shopping list and buy only what you know you’ll need.
- Check out the Omni shopping lists at the back of my book, The Omni Diet*. Note that they include small amounts of fresh and frozen fruits.
- The NRDC reminds us not to succumb to marketing tricks that can lead you to buy more food than you need, particularly perishables. Though these may be less expensive per ounce, they can be more costly overall if you end up ditching most of them.
- Do a good deed: the NRDC reminds us that non-perishable and unspoiled perishable food can be donated to local food banks, soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters. Some of them will pick it up.