Moneyish: 5 simple hacks to help you stop wasting leftovers over the holidays

Think twice before you throw out your holiday party leftovers.

A staggering 94% of Americans admit to throwing food away at home, with the average person chucking 250 pounds of food each year, a new survey by the American Dairy Association Mideast released Monday found.

A total of $91 billion of food is wasted each year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. And the majority of food we eat gets wasted around the holidays. Each year, about 200 million pounds of turkey meat are thrown out over Thanksgiving week alone, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental advocacy group. And Americans waste an average of 5 million more pounds of food between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

People say the No. 1 reason they toss food is because it was past its expiration date, according to the American Dairy Association survey. The report also showed that 60% of people have thrown out food because they didn’t think it was safe to eat. What most people don’t realize, however, is that the food they are throwing away likely hasn’t gone bad: Ground meat and poultry, for example, can last up to two days past the expiration date; beef can keep up to five days; and eggs can stay in the fridge well up to five weeks after its expiration date, according to EatingWell.com.

It’s also important to note what the printed dates on your cartons mean. “Sell by” is more for retailers to take the product off the shelf by the said date; “best if used by” tells customers how long the product will stay fresh for; and “use by” is the last day the product’s maker recommends using it, though it’s not based on food safety. Prepared foods have five to seven days of shelf life in the fridge from the day they’re prepared, according to the U.S. Food Drug Administration . For specific foods, consult FDA guidelines. The USDA also has an app called FoodKeeper which has recommendations on how long to cook, store and keep specific foods like meat, deli and prepared food items, baked goods and baby food for.

“Most of the time the ‘use by’ or ‘best by’ date is when it will be at the height of tastiness, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad for you,” Lisa Sposato, director of food sourcing at City Harvest, New York City’s largest food rescue organization, told Moneyish.

Eliminating food waste at home could save a family of four up to $2,000 per year, registered dietitian and nutrition affairs director for the american Dairy Association Karen Bakies noted in the study. “Just half of that money is enough to provide over 8,000 meals to those in need,” she said adding: “And if you do find yourself with extra groceries, donate them to a local food pantry rather than letting them go to waste.”

Here are some tips on how to reduce food waste this holiday season:

Repurpose. If your holiday mains like turkey, ham are just sitting around in your fridge use them for soups, stews casseroles and chilis. Bakies suggests using leftover meat in large format dishes like lasagna. Leftover veggies like broccoli and potatoes can be thrown into a frittata for a second day dinner, or omelette for breakfast.

Move perishable items to the freezer. If you can’t use it, freeze it. Bakies recommends storing certain foods that will go bad in the fridge fast, like leftovers, meats, bread, sauces, cheese and other ingredients you know you won’t eat immediately.

Store well. Where you place your food in the fridge matters. Milk will keep longer if stored on a bottom shelf because it’s colder as opposed to the top shelf, according to DrinkMilk.com. Cheese and yogurt, on the other hand, which tends to go bad later, should be tightly sealed and kept on the top shelf.

Pack to-go bags for guests. If you have an insane amount of leftovers, send people home with to-go bags. “To avoid waste, make sure your guests take food home. Encourage your guests to bring their own tupperware or take away containers,” Sposato noted.

Buy less. Survey how much leftovers you had for Thanksgiving, and cook half of that for the next holiday party. “Now that Thanksgiving has past, why not take a moment to reflect how much leftover food you have and hopefully you’re still consuming,” Sposato explained. “If everyone had their fill, and you still had leftovers, maybe during the next round of holiday shopping you think about the excess you had and say what if you purchased the same amount and only prepared half of it?”

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