All About Food: Faulty labeling and ignorance contribute to food waste

I was absolutely shocked when I read an article from Consumer Reports that said a family of four in the U.S. wastes about $1,500 a year in thrown-out food.

It seems that we eat 48% of the produce we buy. Meat is not as bad; only 20% is tossed. Half of our seafood gets tossed, 20% of our milk, 38% of our grains and 40% of all the food that we buy ends up in the trash.

I think we have all tossed out brown avocados, squishy bananas, moldy produce and things that may no longer even be recognizable.

Homes are responsible for 43% of this waste, supermarkets and food services businesses are at 40%, and farms 16%, Consumer Reports says. Food processing companies are actually the best at only 2%.

We waste 63 million tons of food per year, costing us around $160 billion. Not only is the food wasted but it is being tossed in landfills, where it decomposes, producing methane gas.

Finally about one year ago, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the country's first waste-reduction goal — 50% by the year 2030.

The Atlantic magazine said this would be accomplished by focusing on improving food efficiency, recycling, decoding of food labels and finding ways to deliver food to the 1-in-6 Americans who are hungry.

There is now more awareness of the problem. Celebrity chefs, food entrepreneurs and some stores are trying to get customers to buy "ugly" fruit and veggies, because they are perfectly fine to eat even if they aren't so pretty.

Of course, the only way to know if food is still edible isn't really very scientific. Often, the labeling reflects the best guesses of manufacturers about taste and freshness. The dates have absolutely nothing to do with how safe the food really is.

And yet a survey from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic found that almost 85% of consumers said they had thrown out food based on the date on the package.

A report written by Emily Broad and others with support from the National Resources Defense Council traced the history of food labeling to the 1970s, in response to consumers wanting to know how fresh their food was.

Dozens of state governments began passing a patchwork of labeling laws, in the absence of the federal government adopting a national uniform standard.

Now 41 states and the District of Columbia require some date labeling on some food.

Two members of Congress are proposing changing the labeling process by having two dates — one indicating peak freshness and the other dealing with safety.

Until this is figured out, trust your own good senses. If something seems off to you, it probably is. Food that is getting funky is likely to look, smell and taste bad.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at themarkos755@gmail.com.

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