The new Food Keeper app from the USDA and Cornell University aims to help you cut food waste at home.
How do you know if the food in your pantry or fridge is still good to eat or if it needs to be composted? The sell-by date isn't a great indicator of freshness, and the sniff test is only as good as your nose, so what's a cook to do? I wasn't going to lead off this article by saying there's an app for that, but I guess I just did anyway.
Food waste is a huge issue in this country, with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimating that about 21% of food goes uneaten "at the consumer level" and about 36 pounds of food per person per month gets wasted, which all adds up to a massive amount of energy, water, and labor being squandered every year. And lest you think that food waste is more of an institutional and food system issue, the USDA notes that "food waste from households represents about 44% of all food waste generated in the U.S."
And one of the reasons for that waste could be ridiculously simple to address, because it turns out that many people may not know how store food properly at home, and don't know how to identify which foods have gone bad and which are still edible.To help address this issue, a new app from the USDA, Cornell University, and the Food Marketing Institute, takes aim at food waste that occurs due to home cooks not being sure about the safety or quality of food.
The FoodKeeper app tries to help users understand how different food storage methods can affect a food's shelf life in order to maximize the storage life of foods at home, and offers advice on food storage for more than 500 foods and beverages.
The app allows users to find product-specific food storage timelines for foods stored in the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator, as well as offering cooking tips for meat, seafood, and poultry items. Users can also put the app to work as a reminder, with a function for adding notes with the dates the foods are purchased, coupled with a notification feature to remind users "when they are nearing the end of their recommended storage date" so they get eaten, not tossed.
In addition to this basic functionality of the FoodKeeper app, users can also submit specific questions about food safety, food storage, and safe food preparation to the USDA's "Ask Karen" virtual representative, which may help reduce or prevent foodborne illnesses.
"The storage times listed are intended as useful guidelines and are not hard-and-fast rules. Some foods may deteriorate more quickly while others may last longer than the times suggested. The times will vary depending on the growing conditions, harvesting techniques, manufacturing processes, transportation and distribution conditions, nature of the food, and storage temperatures. Remember to buy foods in reasonable quantities and rotate the products in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer." - FoodKeeper
The new free FoodKeeper app, which is available for both Android and iOS, is part of a bigger initiative from the USDA and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Food Waste Challenge, which seeks to help reduce, recover, and recycle food waste across the food system.
"The app brings some very good food storage and freshness advice to consumers, and it puts that data right in your hand on demand." - Bob Gravani, professor of food science at Cornell
The information in FoodKeeper was originally available in a print publication, but considering how many of us use smartphones or other gadgets for reading and researching issues instead of relying on paper handouts, this shift to an app could get this valuable info in front of a lot more people.