The avocado has turned brown, the cilantro is slimy, and the tomato became watery mush days ago. So much for the guacamole you planned to make—a week ago (or was it two?). All of the ingredients go into the garbage. Multiply that by a whole country’s worth of good food intentions gone bad, and the ultimate result is that 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. ends up in the trash.

It’s not just your unmade menus that are to blame. Waste occurs all along the food chain—from farms to processors, from grocery stores to restaurants. But the single largest source of food waste is individuals in the home.

That kind of wastefulness could be costing you a lot. A family of four loses $1,500 each year on food it throws away. But the damage is global as well when you take into account how much water, energy, and labor it takes to grow, package, and transport the food that never gets eaten. What’s more, food that has been tossed is the biggest component of landfills, and as it decomposes, it produces the greenhouse gas methane.

The problem is so serious that, one year ago this month, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the country’s first waste-reduction goal­—to lower the nation’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030. And two members of Congress recently introduced the Food Date Labeling Act. If enacted, the legislation would establish a uniform national date-labeling system and eliminate the confusing array of labels that result in people tossing out perfectly good food.

Private industry and nonprofits are getting in on the act, too. Aesthetic guidelines set by grocery stores have contributed to food waste by ruling out so-called “ugly” but entirely nutritious produce. Now those forlorn fruits and veggies—knobby potatoes and gnarled carrots—are being championed by celebrity chefs, food entrepreneurs, and some stores trying to get them back into the food stream. Other groups are doing their part to contribute solutions, too.

And don’t underestimate how much you can do in your own home to reduce food waste. Let’s be clear: Nobody’s asking you to eat bananas that have turned brown or cheese covered in mold. But the healthy, delicious food you pay for should make it to your table while it’s still healthy and delicious. To that end, we’ve culled expert advice on how you can start eating­—and enjoying­—more of your food. That will save you time, money, and the trouble of swabbing soggy spinach out of the crisper—and possibly help save the planet, too.



Food Eaten vs. Food Tossed

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, these are the foods that get thrown out the most. (Percentages are calculated collectively for the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.)

How much of your groceries go to waste.
Photo: Le Tigre

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the September 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.