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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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Food waste starts at home. Or stops.
You can waste less this fall at holiday dinners!

Did you know that Americans throw out more than 28 billion pounds of food each year, about 100 pounds per person? A quarter to a half of all food grown for humans is wasted. Some is lost on the farm, some more in processing, and more still in food service. But families waste plenty of food at home, too. U.S. households waste about 14% of their food purchases. In a family of four, that food is worth over $500, and the items thrown away include unopened, unexpired packages. In fact, food that has not been served outweighs plate scraping: it never even got to the table! No one intends to waste food when they go shopping, but that’s what happens.

How does this happen? Shoppers buy more than the family can eat because the grocery store offers bulk deals. People also fail to match their intentions with their actions; they save leftovers but never eat them, or they mean to serve fruit, but eat cookies. Shoppers buy extra when they are unsure of portion size. People discard foods that don’t fit into the normal routine; these may be new products that the family tries and dislikes, or specialty foods, such as hot dog buns. Once the hot dogs are eaten, the extra buns go stale.

People discard food that is still safe because they mistake the sell-by date for an expiration date. Others make the opposite error. They have unrealistic ideas about how long food will last, and leave it in the refrigerator too long.

Don’t feel like discarding your hundred pounds this year? You can shop and serve smarter and save money and prevent waste.

Inventory. Know what you have in the pantry and refrigerator, so you won’t buy duplicates. This goes for the freezer as well: label it, date it, and use it.
Make a point to find recipes that use ingredients you already have.
Don’t buy perishables in bulk unless you will divide and freeze them in family portions.
Use up or avoid those “companion” foods, like hot dog rolls or mint jelly.
Go ahead and try new products, but remember to finish them up.
Read the fine print: throw it out on the expiration date, not the sell-by date.

Family dinners increase waste, so whether you’re hosting or bringing food, consider:

People are eating less candy and sweet foods. They don’t need as many desserts.
Encourage guests to bring empty food containers to take leftovers home.
Try to get a guest count so you know how much to buy. Chefs differ in their portion estimations, but you can start with a half pound of meat, or a little more chicken on the bone, and a cup of any side dishes, for each adult.
Pay attention at the end of the dinner; what did you throw out? Buy less next time.
At barbeques and tailgates, potato and macaroni salads are often left over and discarded. If you’re serving too much, remember next time to buy less.
Kids may be too busy playing to eat much. Plan small portions.
Use leftovers in lunches. Take them to work or put them in the kids’ lunchboxes.
And always remember to designate a distinct area to recycle bottles and cans. Then sit back and watch your waste disposal decrease this fall.


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Last Updated: April 24, 2013