How to Save $2,000 a Year on Food

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Congress is taking action to prevent us from wasting this money, but there's no reason to wait for new laws.

What if I told you that your family, and most other American families (including my own), are throwing away $2,275 a year? Don’t believe me? It’s true.

No, we’re not throwing actual cash into the garbage can. We’re tossing out food — and lots of it.

According to this report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw away a whopping 40 percent of the U.S. food supply each year. That’s $165 billion in food, which equates to a family of four throwing away $1,300 to $2,300 each year.

This waste is not only bad for your pocketbook, but it’s also taking a toll on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency says that discarded food accounts for roughly 20 percent of the municipal waste sent to landfills each year.

“Plus, consider the resources — water, land, labor, transportation — it took to get that food into our hands in the first place,” says Slate.

We weren’t always so wasteful. The NRDC report says Americans today waste 50 percent more food than we did in the 1970s.

“We can get back there again,” says the report. “Doing so will ultimately require a suite of coordinated solutions, including changes in supply-chain operation, enhanced market incentives, increased public awareness and adjustments in consumer behavior.”

One solution is already in the works. Congress is now considering the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016, which is aimed at reducing Americans’ food waste by standardizing food date labels. It’s estimated that consumer confusion with current food labels contributes to 90 percent of Americans prematurely throwing out food that is still good.

“One of the most common arguments people seem to have at home is about whether or not food should be thrown out just because the date on the label has passed. It’s time to settle that argument, end the confusion and stop throwing away perfectly good food,” Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), who co-sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

There is no federal standard in the United States for “use by” labels on food.

“Many consumers believe that … it’s a federal government label, and it’s actually a manufacturer label dealing with optimal freshness, or maybe optimal taste,” Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. “They assume that it’s done for purposes of safety and quality, and that isn’t the case.”

I know I’m guilty of throwing away food, though the fault lies not only with me using food labels as a guide, but also because I forget what I have in the fridge (or pantry) and it goes bad before I have a chance to use it.

However, now that I’m aware that I could be pocketing up to $2,275 each year by planning my meals better and knowing how to accurately read food labels, I am going to try to make some changes.

The first thing I’m going to do is follow a recommendation from Roni Neff, program director at the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Neff told Slate that keeping a food-trash diary for a week is a good way to get a handle on what you’re throwing away so you can make shopping and/or meal changes.

Do you find yourself throwing away food on a regular basis? Do you think standardized food labels will help curtail food waste? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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