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Consumers

Though consumers cannot officially join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, they can do their part in combating food waste.  Reducing consumer-level loss is an important step in reducing food waste in the United States.  USDA estimates that almost 30 percent of the available U.S. food supply was lost from human consumption at the retail and consumer levels in 2010.  USDA has advised consumers on how to reduce food waste since the food-waste campaigns of World War I and II.  Many of the straight-forward messages of that time are echoed in more recent advice.

Food: don't waste it! poster from World War I

World War I Era Poster, Committee of Public Safety, Department of Food Supply, South Penn Square, Philadelphia, PA

EPA's Suggestions for Reducing Food Waste

  • Shop your refrigerator first! Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.

  • Plan your menu before you go shopping and buy only those things on your menu.

  • Buy only what you realistically need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.

  • Be creative! If safe and healthy, use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons and beet tops can be sautèed for a delicious side dish.

  • Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables - especially abundant seasonal produce.

  • At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal.

  • At all-you-can-eat buffets, take only what you can eat.

Storage and Preservation

Some consumer-level food waste arises from consumers or retailers throwing away wholesome food because of confusion about how to safely store it.  USDA and other federal agencies offer guidelines for food storage to keep families safe and reduce food waste.

World War II era poster, Don't Let Good Food Spoil

  • Meat, eggs, and other: Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage are essential to prevent foodborne illness and reduce waste. See the Basics for Handling Food Safely fact sheet focused on handling food safely, including storage information.
  • Shelf-stable foods: Most shelf-stable foods are safe indefinitely. In fact, canned goods will last for years, as long as the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Packaged foods (cereal, pasta, cookies) will be safe past the ‘best by’ date, although they may eventually become stale or develop an off flavor. See the Shelf-Stable Food Safety fact sheet.

  • Frozen foods: Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely, though they may become a bit dry or start to acquire a “freezer” taste.  See Focus on Freezing fact sheet for tips and advice on safe food freezing. 

  • Fresh produce:external link The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides safe handling tips for fresh produce and fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices – including information on safe storage.

  • Take-out foods: In today's busy world, take-out and delivered foods are experiencing runaway popularity. USDA offers guidelines for safe handling.

  • Left-overs: Often when we cook at home or eat in a restaurant, we have leftovers. USDA provides recommendations for handling leftovers safely.

  • Canning: USDA offers advice to home canners in the Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2009 revision.

  • The Food Keeper:external link In this guide, the Food Marketing Institute and Cornell University offer guidelines to consumers on food quality, safe handling, and storage. The Food Marketing Institute provides searchable Food Keeper information on the proper storage and handling of shelf stable foods, food purchased frozen, food purchased refrigerated, bakery items, and fresh produce. 

  • Other federal:external link Links to federal government information on food storage and preservation

Food-product Dating

Consumers may discard wholesome food because of confusion about the meaning of dates stamped on the label. 

USDA provides information on food-product dating—including what it is and what it means.