Wasted food is never a good thing. People spend money on something they’ll never consume, while elsewhere somebody else doesn’t have enough to eat. The only people who even remotely benefit are the companies that made money off a product that was never even used.

While those companies have their own bad habits to break, we the consumers can do more to make sure the food we buy actually fulfills its duties.

Think Ahead

Since food waste is often the result of buying more than you need, it can be reduced by having a better idea of how much you will need ahead of time.

When buying ingredients for a meal, figure out exactly how much you’ll need and buy as close to that amount as possible. Some even recommend planning out each and every meal a week at a time, but instead you could go on several smaller shopping trips in a week instead of one big one. This way, you don’t overbuy.

Also, when thinking about what portion size to cook, err on the small side. If you want more later, you can make it then, but extra food that’s already cooked can’t be uncooked.

Be Efficient

You won’t always be able to acquire the exact quantities you need, so you’ll wind up with leftovers eventually. Don’t hesitate to use them, whether that’s finishing off a final product or reincorporating the excess ingredients into new recipes.

When you do preserve food, whether it’s fresh or leftovers, know the best manner of doing it. Consider how long it will be until you use those leftovers, and whether they’d be better suited in the freezer or the fridge.

With fresh produce, know where different things will last the longest. Some fruits and vegetables belong in the fridge, others belong on the counter (both because they fare better at room temperature and because they emit gases that can overripen fridge-fruits if kept in close quarters).

Other items should be stored somewhere cooler than your kitchen but warmer than the fridge, like a closet or a dry basement.

To go the extra mile, there are steps you can take to slow the spoiling process altogether.

Things like berries and green vegetables often go bad quickly, but this is due to excess moisture. There are ways to keep this at bay, like washing berries in a vinegar-and-water solution or pre-rinsing and drying heads of lettuce.

Is It Really All That Bad?

There are sell-by, best-by, and use-by dates.

The sell-by date is like a tag on a mattress: it’s for the seller to heed, not you. The best-by date refers to when a product’s peak freshness is expected to pass, but it will almost always be perfectly serviceable for some time after that. The use-by date is the only one that tries to mark when a product is no longer good; when this date passes, it’s understandable if you want to cut your losses on the product.

That said, many food producers low-ball their expiration dates, and the food may be as good as it was before that date.

Some think these companies are trying to get you to throw food out early so you’ll buy more replacements. Others simply think these companies can’t accurately predict when a food product will go bad and want to err on the side of caution.

In any case, if a piece of food seems perfectly fine to you, it probably is, even if the packaging says otherwise.

Food can even be good if it doesn’t look marvelous. Many people pass over pieces of produce that look unsightly, whether they have gashes or bruises or are simply asymmetrical.

In fact, the very ugly ones rarely even make it to the store. But these are almost always safe to eat. Even if you aren’t comfortable eating a part of an apple with a small brown hole in it, you can cut that piece out and eat the rest.

What Should You Do First?

Before you plan to implement new shopping habits, figure out a way to use what you already have.

The refrigerator was built and intended for short-term use, so nothing should be in there too long. Move older items to the front so you’ll remember they’re in there and will be inspired to use them. At peak efficiency, you could specifically account for all the food in your house in terms of when and how you plan to use it.

Of course, we are only human, and some foodstuffs will probably go wasted.

There are others who would recommend more extreme measures to utilize every available calorie. However, we’re not so sure regular people have time and interest for such elaborate schemes (but if you want to turn every last morsel into cooking stock or give composting a try, be our guest).

What matters is we each try to acquire better habits so our surroundings will reflect our efforts.