Too Good To Toss

Do you give a little shudder when you throw away food that might have been perfectly fine a few days ago?  I do and if I can get my husband to do it, my guilt isn’t quite so painful.  Now I’m on an inspired mission.  I’ve resolved to be more intentional about creatively working leftovers and produce slightly passed its prime into meals, cooking a little less and rethinking my grocery list.

So why this personal mission in the kitchen?  Tossing food seems like tossing dollars into the landfill or down the disposal.   Saving my food dollar is personal, but sending food to the landfill is a more global concern as decomposing food accounts for a large amount of landfill volume producing methane gas.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, it is estimated American families throw away 40 percent of the food they purchase worth about $2,000 per year.    Much of the loss is due to consumer confusion about date labeling terminology and food safety.

Here are the basics about food dates:

  • “Use By” date: For food safety, throw away food once it has passed this date.
  • “Best Used By” date: This is an indicator of peak quality and freshness, not food safety. Foods are usually safe to eat.
  • “Sell By” date: It tells retailers when to pull food from the shelf.  Make sure this date hasn’t passed when grocery shopping.

Every food has a food-safe limit and shouldn’t be eaten.  For example:

  • Mold found on cheese, dairy products or other foods.
  • Potatoes with large green areas or new sprouts which contain signs of the toxin solanine. Small areas can be cut away; the potato is safe to eat.
  • Raw eggs out of their shells, including egg-based casseroles, should be used within two to four days to avoid salmonella present to grow to unsafe levels. Discard raw eggs with broken shells.
  • Ground beef: use or freeze within two days of purchase.

Cooking Tips:

Good food and nutrition will be saved if you:

  • Have leftover pizza with a fried egg on top for breakfast.
  • Sauté extra ground beef and freeze it for spaghetti sauce or tacos.
  • Make croutons out of stale bread by lightly toasting the bread cubes then tossing with olive oil and seasoning.
  • Use leftover fruit salad or fruit to make a healthy fruit smoothie. Leftover fruit pieces can be frozen and thawed as needed.
  • Make vegetable soup from leftover vegetables and pieces of meat. Freeze leftovers until you have enough for soup.

With a few new shopping and kitchen habits in place, I believe I’m finding a few extra dollars.  No guilt there.

Good Reads

  • An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler
  • For more information about food waste download Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its rood from Farm to Fork to Landfill from the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.