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How to Extend the Shelf Life of Food Beyond the 'Best By' Date

Expiration confusion is one of the top causes of food waste. Here are some ways you can extend the life of products beyond the "best by" date.
Posted at 11:45 AM, Nov 25, 2022

No matter how good of a cook you are, chances are a portion of that meal will end up in a landfill. But American University professor Sauleh Siddiqui says food waste isn't the fault of any one person or sector.

"We waste anywhere from 30% to 40% of all food that's produced in the United States," he said.

From the farmer to the grocer to folks at home, some waste has to do with the way we are taught to look at food.

At the Misfits Markets plant in New Jersey, manufacturers are taking imperfect foods and selling them to consumers at a discount.

Vice President Holly Eagleson says much of their supply comes directly from farmers who know grocery stores will reject certain items, even if they're perfectly edible.

"Almost a third of produce goes to waste at the farm level because it doesn't meet certain grocery store standards," Eagleson said.

The goal is to change the way we look at food.

While it will take a group effort to reduce food waste, here are some things experts suggest:

- Freeze meat and bread instead of letting it expire

- Take note of food items that get wasted each month

- Buy less of those items in the future

- Avoid overcooking

- Consider ways to reuse parts of food that you normally toss out

"There are so many great things you can do with carrot tops, for example," Eagleson said. "You can make pesto. Or scraps from potato peels can make chips. There's a lot of things you can do once you start thinking holistically about this."

Expiration confusion is one of the top causes of food waste, but there's no uniform standard for labels.

According to the USDA, it has more to do with quality than safety, as long as foods are stored properly.

"Best by dates are pretty arbitrary and we really try to educate our consumers to understand there's potentially much more life in something beyond what's printed on the package," Eagleson said.

While the efforts to get people to rethink the way they look at food is a great start, researchers say food waste is a systemic problem that will take each industry — including us at home — to solve.