We live in a country of both waste and want. The statistics on both are astounding. One in six Americans lacks a secure supply of food, according to a recent study. Others struggle just to put food on the table each night.
Yet, with so many people simply wanting food to eat, Americans waste $43 billion worth of unopened, edible food each year. Overall, the numbers on food waste are even more staggering as about 40% of all food in America goes uneaten, which adds up to us tossing $165 billion into the garbage. The culprit? According to a new study, food labels are a major contributor to food waste in America.
"But it's past the expiration date!"
Food labels in America can be confusing to say the least. "Sell by," "use by," or "best before" don't necessarily mean that the food contained within that package is harmful if used after the date stamp. However, upwards of 90% of Americans throw away food early according to a recent study by Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The report found that these phrases are poorly regulated and, more often than not, misinterpreted by the consumer. This is why the report is now suggesting these very ineffective food labels should be revamped.
While revamping the food labeling system will help, consumers do need to at least educate themselves on what the current labels mean. "Sell by," for example, is actually a date stamp for grocery stores to know how much shelf life a food product has left. Meanwhile, "best before" or "use by" dates are really to tell consumers that a product has reached its peak, and not to say that it's expired.
By not tossing out food before its time, consumers can avoid wasting money on food. On top of that, we'd have the potential to help overcome the hunger problem in America, as the same study found that just saving 15% of America's food waste would be enough to feed more than 25 million America's each year.
There's an app for that
Technology is also making inroads to help combat our problems with wasting food. Smartphone apps like Green Egg Shopper and Food Storage & Shelf Life help consumers keep track of perishable food items. These apps cost a minimal amount of money, making the payback very well worth it in the long run. However, simply making a list and taking it to the store would help save a lot, too.
Meanwhile, bigger budget items like smarter refrigerators are also seeking to be a solution to the problem of food waste. LG's Smart ThinQ technology lets consumers know exactly what is inside their refrigerator and when that food will expire. It enables consumers to better manage the food in their refrigerator by alerting them as expiration dates near. It also assists in making a shopping list that uploads to a smartphone so the consumer knows exactly what they need to buy as well as to avoid buying too much of something that they can't use up in time before it does go bad.
Food for thought
Americans waste a lot of food. All too often, this is food that doesn't necessarily need to be wasted, because we simply don't understand the food labels. We could save a lot of money by knowing what these labels really mean. We can also be more aware of looming expiration dates by taking full advantage of the technology that's in the palm of our hands. By throwing away less good food, we'll have more money in our pockets, which we can use to help those who are still in need.