Refrigerator container filled with moldy rotten vegetables

The Shocking Amount Of Food U.S. Households Waste Every Year

I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around this documented fact: Nearly half of all produce grown in the U.S. is thrown out, while at the same time there is growing hunger and poverty right here in America. As I read the first paragraph of this news story, I assumed naively that all U.S.-grown produce makes it to market. Then consumers like you and me get it home, let it go bad before we can consume it and into the garbage it goes. That is a factor, but not the whole story.

produce waste in the field

The truth is that vast quantities of fresh produce are left in the field to rot. It then becomes livestock feed or gets hauled directly to the landfill because of (get ready) cosmetic standards.

Not every potato, watermelon, strawberry, or grape cluster turns out photo-perfect. Some are ugly. And, unfortunately, that means they do not meet retailer and consumer demands for blemish-free, perfect produce.

Just imagine how the retail cost of produce might plummet if all that is grown—even the still-nutritious but ugly produce—were available for sale. More on that in a bit.

I don’t know that there’s anything we can do individually about this matter of retail waste, but I know we can stop the carnage in our homes.

Refrigerator container filled with moldy rotten vegetables

According to the World Resources Institute, the average U.S. household of four people throws out about $1,665 in rotten food every year. Wow. That makes my head spin! Even if that number is far less in your home, consider these simple ways all of us can stop throwing our food dollars into the garbage.

Freshness guide

Fresh produce is not cheap, and getting more expensive every day. Now more than ever it’s important to bone up on how long your produce purchases are going to last so you make sure no fruits and vegetables end up in the garbage or compost.

You can count on these items to be generally fresh for:

1 to 3 days

    • asparagus
    • berries
    • fresh leafy greens
    • peaches

3 to 6 days

    • avocados
    • bananas
    • broccoli
    • green beans
    • tomatoes

One week or longer

    • apples
    • carrots
    • cauliflower
    • potatoes
    • squash

Don’t Overbuy

The way to do this is to have a good, realistic plan for the produce you bring into your house. Make certain you will consume it before it goes bad—regardless of the great sale price or how beautiful it looks in the store or farmer’s market. Simply buying too much is the number one reason that household produce lands in the garbage.

Disinfect the Fridge

I plead guilty on this one. I just don’t think about it if I can’t see a mess. The truth is that anytime something spoils in the refrigerator, it leaves behind mold we can’t see. As a result, this mold attacks the new fresh stuff you put in there. Disinfecting the inside surfaces of your refrigerator on a regular schedule will make everything last a little longer and smell a lot better.

Extend Berry Life

Soaking berries in a weak vinegar and water solution before you store them in the refrigerator will make them last for several days longer than simply putting them in the fridge. Add one part vinegar to 10 parts water. Swirl the berries around for just a few seconds. Rinse and store. Strawberries can last up to two weeks longer using this method.


This clever gadget slows down the ripening process by absorbing the natural ethylene gas, which all fruits and vegetables give off in the process of ripening. Ethylene is a harmless, odorless, and colorless gas responsible for the natural ripening process. A high concentration of ethylene gas in the refrigerator or the fruit bowl speeds up the ripening process and that’s what hastens spoilage.

The folks at BluApple estimate that by putting BluApple to work by placing one with the produce in the refrigerator and another in the fruit bowl sitting on the counter, the typical household can cut its annual food bill by $600. Not bad!

The only trick is in remembering to replace the ethylene absorption packets every few months to ensure that your BluApple is working at peak efficiency.

BluApple works really well—amazing, in fact. If you’re interested, I recommend starting with the Bluapple One-Year Combo Pack, which includes two BluApples (one for the fruit bowl, one for the refrigerator) and six ethylene absorbing packets, which is what you need for one full year of BluApple usefulness.



A Foodsaver vacuum-sealing machine (prices vary more depending on the model) is the best option for extending the useful life of produce. Food can be vacuum-sealed in bags or specific Foodsaver canisters. However, my favorite method for storing everything from strawberries to tomatoes and everything between is in ordinary glass canning jars.

This requires a Jar Sealing Kit that attaches to the Foodsaver. Simply fill a glass canning jar (regular or wide-mouth) with unwashed produce like strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. Set the lid on the jar and apply the jar sealer. Start the machine and it removes all of the air from the jar and seals the jar tightly.

Stored in the refrigerator, the contents will remain fresh and beautiful for weeks, not days, depending on what it is.




Ugly produce

There is a lovely company, Misfits Market, that offers a  subscription delivery service for “ugly” food. The New Jersey based company estimates that about one-fifth of all fruit and vegetables end up in the dump for failure to conform to the industry standard of perfection. Misfits Market offers perfectly healthy and nutritious “ugly” produce for up to 40% less than retail store prices.

At this time, Misfits Market delivers to all 48 continental US states—coming soon to Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.


Grow your own

Now more than ever, it’s important that we think about and made necessary plans to grow our own food. There was nothing like a worldwide pandemic, long lines at food stores plus talk and fear of food shortages to wake us up to the idea of becoming more self-reliant.

You don’t need acreage to grow a garden. In fact, you don’t even need yard or plot of land (although that is surely a blessing if you do).

Start reading, start learning, start a garden!

First published: 7-14-16; Currently Updated:  6-30-23



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13 replies
  1. Jackie Marcinko says:

    Tupperware’s Fridgesmarts really extend the life of produce by a significant amount. They are designed to vent appropriately for the type of produce that you put in the Fridgesmart container. Have you tried them? They really work!!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      I’m hard pressed to respond to your question as I don’t use the aluminum foil option. I’m sold on wool dryer balls. Perhaps someone who is equally sold on using balls of alumunum foil will weigh in here.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Margaret …
      Go to Use the search feature upper right corner. Type a keyword like robot, vaccuum, etc.

  2. Robin says:

    I bought a compost can about three years ago. I love it!!! I can not smell what’s in it and I keep a small covered jar with apple cider vinegar and dish soap by it to catch any stray fruit flies. I love this because I only have to empty the can when it’s full so I compost more.

  3. Ann Wiess says:

    these are such great ideas! Also, I’ve been trying to compost some – but I get the worst flies. They seem to be most attracted to the meat and bones I’m compositing. Do you have any good tips for how to keep the flies away?

    • Sheri B. says:

      I just learned to compost. But 1 thing I learned was no Meat/ bones Or oils or dairy of any kind. The flies love those stuff and it makes your compost stink.
      Only produce and brown paper bags and other brown boxes. You can look up how to compost and they will give you a list of what you can and cannot compost.
      If i were you, I would start over again. Because the fly’s have laid eggs and it a never ending problem!
      look it up.

  4. cally ross says:

    talk about naive, I wondered how anyone could grow such perfect produce, and in mass, as we are offered in the store, duh… we never see the “ugly” ones!
    we’ve grown some interesting and humorous shapes of produce at home and they taste just as good as the “pretty” ones. 🙂

  5. Marc Fisher says:

    If you cannot use your fruit and vegetables due to spoilage, I would recommend worm composting which is easily done and very worthwhile. The worm compost is excellent for your plants.

  6. Rita says:

    I’ve been thinking about getting a dehydrator. That way I can dehydrate things before they go bad and they will last a long, long time.

  7. Richard R says:

    The list of freshness times assumes we can go to the market whenever we wish. Of course that is not true right now. The other thing is those of us that live alone, not always by choice, have to buy so little fresh produce at a time that it is not even feasible to buy anything that will not keep for longer than a week. I have to use frozen fruits and vegetables with an occasional canned product.

    • Mary says:

      Great tip, Vanessa. I’ve added link to Misfits Market in your comment. I see they deliver to all zip codes in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, Ohio, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. I need to look into this, and I will.


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