Smart Phone App Helps Avoid Food Waste

by Brady Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The Environmental Protection Agency says the average family wastes $600 each year throwing out perfectly edible food.

Now a new app aims to cut that waste -- letting you share your food with perfect strangers online. It's just one of many ways you can save on food and money.

Every year, 36 million pounds of perfectly edible food ends up in the garbage.

"We only eat 60 percent of the food we produce, and that is pretty much a global stat," said Dan Newman.

He and some friends came up with the solution a few years ago, after ordering too much pizza.

"So all this pizza was going to go to waste. And we thought, how cool of an idea would it be to find a place or find someone in the area who would be interested in eating this pizza?"

That idea grew into a smartphone app called "leftoverswap."

It's easy to use: just take a picture of the food you don't want to go to waste, and then post it through the app.

It then drops a pin on your location with a picture and description of the meal, no exchange of money involved.

Newman says it also works for unopened and canned foods, but food experts say the app raises safety concerns.
"So you don't know if it was refrigerated when the person got home, or if they left it on the counter, you also don't know if they sneezed or coughed into the food, had any saliva in the food when they were eating it. Also, there's a food defense concern, so you don't know if they inserted anything in it that could be harmful to you," said Rachel Wall, a food nutrition specialist with ISU Extension.

Newman admits there is the possibility that traded leftovers could make you sick.

But, like with Craigslist, he hopes people will use common sense.

"Don't give away anything you wouldn't eat yourself. And if you do take food, make sure you prepare it properly," Newman said.

If the idea of swapping food with strangers leaves a bad taste in your mouth, there are always other ways to cut down on wasting.

"A lot of it is leftovers, things that don't get used or expired," Wall said.

"The saying we like to use is four-day throwaway, so after four days it should be eaten, thrown out, or frozen."

But not all wasted food is leftovers. Many times we pour milk down the drain or toss out meat... all because of the expiration dates. But there's a big difference between the terms "use by" and "best by."

Hy-Vee nutritionist Judy Fitzgibbons said you'll find the "use or freeze by" labels on fresh foods like meats, milk and eggs.

"The thing about eggs is if you break one open and it's bad, you're going to be know because it's going to smell terrible," said Fitzgibbons.

Eating a bad egg or expired meat can make you sick. But on products like this box of cereal - with a "best if used by" date of July 13th, 2014 - they're more about quality and taste.

"So if you don't use it by the 13th, there's nothing that's a safety issues that's going to go bad here, it just may start tasting stale, or particularly if there's seasons or flavorings in them, cinnamon, nutmeg, they start kind of losing their flavor," said Fitzgibbons.

Fitzgibbons adds food safety is a much bigger concern now than it was with past generations, which may be part of the reason why so much food is needlessly thrown out.

But your freezer can help. Properly frozen food can last for years.

"If you're going to freeze it and thaw it, then you need to cook it right away, and don't keep it in the refrigerator for several more days."

Doing all of this can not only save you food... but also save money.

If you're ever wondering if the food you're about to eat is safe to eat, you can call your local nutritionist.
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