Over at the Washington Post today, Roberto Ferdman pointed to a new study that found that the key reason people throw food away is worries about food poisoning.
To be sure, those concerns are legitimate. Every year, millions of Americans get sick from the things they eat and drink.
As this chart shows, it's not always the culprits you'd expect that poison people. More folks are now sickened by their veggies than by their hamburgers. According to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fruits and vegetables cause nearly half of all foodborne illnesses, while dairy and eggs cause 20 percent, meat and poultry cause 22 percent, and fish and shellfish just 6 percent.
There are a number of reasons for the trend, which we covered in more detail here at Vox, including the fact that we tend to eat produce raw, which means harmful bacteria aren't killed off in the cooking process.
How to not get food poisoning
If you're unsure about whether you should eat the food in your fridge, the US Department of Agriculture has an awesome new app called FoodKeeper. It allows you to easily search its recommendations for storage times on just about every food you can imagine. You can also search tips on how to safely handle and cook food.
If you don't want to download an app, the USDA has this quick reference chart for fresh and uncooked food in the fridge. (Note that frozen foods are mostly safe to eat indefinitely, but their quality wanes after varying periods of time.)
If you want to know more, here are some (lightly edited) tips from the FDA on how to minimize your risk of food poisoning. Most of them are pretty commonsense:
- Buy produce that is not bruised or damaged.
- If you buy precut produce — pineapple chunks, bagged salad greens — select those that are refrigerated or iced.
- When packing your groceries, separate the fresh fruits and vegetables from meat, poultry, and seafood products.
- Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below.
- Make sure to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked.
- If you use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after use.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating.
- Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking.
- Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, wash it first.
- Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.