(CN) – The average American family wastes nearly a third of the food they buy – the equivalent of 250 pounds of food per person annually – according to a survey released Monday, just in time to rethink the handling of Thanksgiving leftovers.
The American Dairy Association Mideast says 94 percent of Americans admit to throwing food away at home.
"Whether people are over-purchasing groceries or getting tired of their leftovers, too much food is being thrown away in America,” said Karen Bakies, a registered dietitian and vice president of nutrition affairs for the American Dairy Association Mideast in Columbus, Ohio.
"Imagine coming home with four bags of groceries and throwing one straight into the trash. That's really what is happening in most households," Bakies said.
A passed expiration date is the top reason for throwing away food, with 60 percent of respondents tossing things because they thought it was unsafe to eat.
Besides the food, all the resources that went into producing, processing, packaging, and transporting the food being tossed is also wasted. Additionally, much of the wasted food rots in landfills – producing methane that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Less food waste could also put more money in the family budget or help fill the neighborhood food bank.
"A family of four could save up to $2,000 by wasting less food, but it's not just great for your family, it's also great for your community. Just half of that money is enough to provide over 8,000 meals to those in need." Bakies said. "And if you do find yourself with extra groceries, donate them to a local food pantry rather than letting them go to waste."
To achieve this, Bakies recommends organizing the refrigerator. Follow the "first in, first out" rule, by rotating older food to the front of your refrigerator so it's not forgotten.
Location of certain types of foods can impact freshness. Bakies said cheese and yogurt should be tightly sealed on the top shelf, while produce is best stored in humidity-controlled drawers. Milk will stay fresh longer in the back of the bottom shelf where it will stay cold, rather than experiencing a blast of warm air every time the door is opened.
She also recommends freezing food that will not be used right away. Milk, cheese and butter can be frozen for weeks and taken out of the freezer as needed. Herbs and sauces can be frozen in ice cube trays to use just the right portion in recipes.
Bakies also suggests getting creative by finding ways to use extra ingredients to create new family favorites. Extra whipping cream from a dessert recipe is also great folded into scrambled eggs or mashed potatoes. If vegetables look less than perfect, add them to soups, stir fry or casseroles. Extra fruit and yogurt blend together for a healthy smoothie.
While it can be tough to remember how and where to store every food item, Bakies recommends using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's FoodKeeper app to find out how to store and cook over 400 foods.
The department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service developed the app along with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute. The app can even send alerts for when that leftover Thanksgiving dinner is approaching the end of its recommended storage.