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How to cut down on food waste by learning label terminology

Food waste

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(NaturalNews) Although the biggest waste of food comes from Big Ag, a handful of major food distributors, and retail grocers and restaurants, minimizing personal food waste is vital for preserving what you eat before it spoils while not exceeding your food budget.

William Fisher, vice president of science and policy for the Institute of Food Technologists and co-author of a report on food labeling published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, stated, "[F]ood waste in the home is mostly a problem in developed countries. In developing countries, the problem is getting food from the fields to the consumer before it spoils."

Those sticker dates in food stores

Federally monitored labeling controls scant ingredient and minimal nutritional data only. But rules for when food products must be labeled with a date vary from state to state. For example, deadlines for stamping dates on egg cartons after packing can vary by twice as much in one state as another.

These dates are usually for grocers, letting them know when they should rotate their stock or even throw some of it out. And there's the first red flag for food waste by grocers.

But sticking to personal use, let's see how we can use those dates to our advantage and prevent our dollars from being wasted by spoiled, unused foods. First, it's good to understand what those dates really mean.

Sell by: This is solely intended to let retailers know when a product should be removed from store shelves and replaced with fresher items. But that date still gives a window of safe consumption for shoppers. This appears often on dairy products.

If you see an item discounted with a sell-by date that is approaching, it may be worth the gamble to pick it up if you intend to use it completely sooner rather than later. About one-third of the product's shelf life typically remains after the sell-by date, according to Fisher.

Use by, Best by/if used by/if used before/before: All these terms refer to the date when a food's taste, quality and texture will begin to decline.

This applies mostly to baked goods (including breads), breakfast cereals and other packaged foods. Many of those dates can be up to a year after packaging. So if a package like that is on sale, pick it up if you feel that you can use it.

Expiration date: This is the date label that should have a skull and crossbones logo. It's the date that food manufacturers say food should be discarded or consumers could quite possibly entertain health problems.

Personal storage after purchasing

Bananas that are starting to discolor and excessively soften shouldn't be discarded unless one is diabetic or pre-diabetic (metabolic syndrome disorder).

The complex carbohydrates in sufficiently over-ripened bananas break down into simple sugars, but brown spots on bananas indicate a rise in antioxidants. This is good for those who are not so sugar-sensitive.

Apples last without refrigeration for quite some time as long as they are intact, and since they are heavily sprayed, the Environmental Working Group lists non-organic apples as the "dirty dozen" leader. They should be organic only.

Your fridge should be between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The freezer should be at or near zero degrees Fahrenheit. It's wise to purchase organic legumes and grains and keep them in glass jars inside of dark, dry spaces. Those will last quite a while.

The same is true with bulk potatoes. But when they begin sprouting or showing green spots, they're on the way out. The best way to minimize your foods' travel and warehouse time to the store is shopping at your local farmers' market.

If you want a more comprehensive, detailed list of how long different stored foods last after purchasing, click here.

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