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Waste not, want not

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According to the USDA Economic Research Service, Americans waste 96 billion pounds of food every year. An average household of four throws away over $1,000 a year in food. Yet families are not the sole source of wasted food the USDDA states that grocery stores toss out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables alone each year.

Grocery chains are more likely to throw away fruits, vegetables and even entire hams and roasts than donate to distribution centers. What many people don't know is that federal and state laws protect grocers from liability; however, stores expressed concerns that donated food could sicken recipients, even if it has yet to reach its expiration date. While some major chains donate food, others do not.

Why is it that Americans think very little about throwing away or letting foods spoil? Granted, it's inevitable for there to be food waste, but these numbers are staggering and indicative that Americans need to be more mindful and save on cash, food and time. With signs that the U.S. economy isn't getting any better, consumers may have to teach themselves the value of food and how to better manage it and reduce waste. How bad or protracted the down economy gets will determine how soon consumers make the adjustments to be more practical and frugal.

Here are some tips to make your impact on food waste:

Food-Waste-Graphic1. Urge supermarkets to donate to food banks.

2. Not all expiring foods are bad. Although there are some foods we need to be cautious with, it's generally true that food labels, especially 'sell by dates,' are a suggestion of quality, not safety. So if you find an item that has a sell by date that is close to expiring (within a day or so), ask the store manager for a discount if one is not already given on the product. Meats are a great example of how you get cut your costs and still get a great cut of meat on sale. If you are not going to eat it right away, freeze it. But just remember, don't buy it just because you got it at a discount, you must use it right away or it may go bad and those only adds to the waste problem.

3. Buy less food and shop more frequently. It sounds like wasted time, but in the long run you'll save money. If you shop Sunday for a weeks' worth of meals you're more apt to have food spoil by Friday. Shopping more frequently and buying less also helps give you more flexibility in how to use leftovers.

4. Eat before you shop. We all know that shopping on an empty stomach tends to lead to impulse buys and unnecessary stocking up.

5. Limit yourself to the bulk buying at wholesale clubs. This can lead to overspending and waste. You don't want to buy three heads of lettuce or five pounds of bananas if you can't eat it all within a reasonable time. If you are a wholesale club addict, think about shopping with a friend and splitting the purchases.

6. Divide and package those bulk meats as soon as you get home. Instead of putting food away as it came packaged, break it down into smaller portions and freeze what you're not going to use right away. This helps prevent food from going bad in your fridge.

7. Leftovers! I know some people are not big on eating it, but get over it. The meal was good yesterday and it's just as good if not better the next. Thanksgiving is a prime example you can make turkey leftovers a thousand different ways and if you're tired after day four of eating turkey, freeze the rest.

8. Make a meal plan. This is my shortcoming and one I need to work on. I'm one of those people who think about dinner on my way home from work. This is not good. All you really need to do is spend about a half an hour and make a list of meals for the week. Look at the grocery flyers and plan your meals according to the sales. While grocery shopping, stick to your list and make sure you buy all the ingredients for that week's meals.

9. Keep your refrigerator clean and tidy. If you can't see it, you're more than likely to forget about it. Rotate your foods by placing newer items in the back and pushing forward the older items.

10. If you're in a restaurant, remember that once the bread or any other 'extras' hit the table they have to be tossed if not eaten. So speak up if you don't want a loaf of bread or those fries. Take home any leftovers for the next day's lunch.

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