Here's How Much Food We're Really Wasting

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Some people's favorite chore might be cleaning out the fridge, but many others would agree it's a slog — and a smelly, depressing one at that, in the wrong circumstances. We always try to shop for groceries within our means and our needs, moderated here and there by a certain sense of optimism. Given how much food goes to waste in American homes, we may need to step up our efforts.

Economists at Ohio State University have just released new numbers about how much food we expect to eat from our fridges and how much we actually consume. The contrasts are stark: We think we'll enjoy nearly 100 percent of the food we buy, but in reality, across types of perishables (dairy, fruit, vegetables), we only manage to use in the low 40s.

Tossing more than half of the contents of your fridge is rough when you think of it as lost money. But the Ohio State team has at least one idea about what's behind it: expiration dates. Not only are they confusing and unintuitive, but they're also rooted in marketing (and plausible deniability) more often than not. Soggy produce is one thing, but a lot of foods don't become dangerous after a fixed period of time.

Consumer advocates and government officials are working to standardize food labelling. Until then, you don't need to go all out on ugly produce or a zero-waste lifestyle to cut down on food waste. At the very least, cut your grocery haul in half for starters and see where that can get you.