1. Organize your fridge to reduce waste.
These "anti-waste" tips literally channel "grocery store management 101."
- Designate a separate, highly visible shelf for items that are close to expiring.
- If you have more than one of an item, organize those items to ensure the one that has the nearest expiration date is closest to the front.
- Set a time and day for your "weekly fridge inventory"—preferably right before your weekly grocery shopping trip.
- Keep track of items that you routinely struggle to use up in time so you buy less.
- If the item has been half-used (such as a jar of pasta sauce, a squeeze bottle of mayonnaise, or a tin of tuna) don't just go by the expiration date—open it up, take a sniff, take a look. Previously opened items will turn bad faster than the expiration dates indicate in most cases.
- Know where the warmest and coolest areas in your fridge are: the areas nearest the door are warmer and the areas closest to the back will be coolest. Store items appropriately to prevent spoilage or "fridge burn" (this cheat sheet may also help).
- Do not store wet produce in the original grocery store bags—remove them, pat them dry, then re-package them appropriately so they last longer.
- Avoid contamination—which renders even expiration dates unnecessary—by storing meats safely away from other items.
2. Don't forget about the freezer and the pantry!
- While produce, dairy, and items requiring refrigeration are likely to expire most rapidly, even frozen and pantry items have expiration dates.
- Do a pantry and freezer inventory along with your fridge inventory, paying attention to dates and also other signs that an item may be close to going bad.
- When you store previously prepared items in the freezer (such as soup, fish, or homemade ice cream) be sure to mark the date of storage in a visible place. This way you can use them up before their frozen shelf life expires.
3. Cook smart.
- Make it a rule that dinner each night must incorporate at least one item that is close to reaching its expiration date.
- Set up your menu in advance—if possible, at the same time as you do your scheduled weekly fridge/freezer/pantry inventory.
- Set up a specific place in the fridge/freezer for previously prepared menu items that are now "leftovers." Date each and ensure they are eaten before they go bad.
- If other family members besides you shop and cook, make them responsible for reimbursing the family for grocery waste that occurs on "their" watch—this kind of accountability helps everyone.
4. Take expiration dates with a grain of, well, salt.
According to CNN, expiration dates are more like guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. This is because expiration dates were never designed to reflect whether food was safe to consume, but rather to designate the period of "peak freshness."
Here are some surprising go-by tips:
- Produce is typically easiest to assess because it will visibly wilt or mold.
- Eggs are safe to eat up to five weeks past the package expiration date.
- Packaged items can often be consumed up to a year after the expiration date without noticeable reduction in taste quality (think packaged mac n' cheese).
- Canned items are typically safe up to five years after the sell by date (less in high humidity areas) according to WebMD.
- "Sell by" is not the same as "use by" or "best by." "Sell by" is only important if you are selling the item. "Best by" indicates when the item is at peak freshness. "Use by" is the most pertinent label in terms of food safety.
- Freezing a perishable item can keep it fresh long past its expiration date, according to WebMD.