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And here's a startling number about a preventable loss. The average American family throws away a quarter of the food it buys each year. And in hopes of changing that, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have announced the first-ever national goal for reducing food waste. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The USDA estimates that America wastes 133 billion pounds of food a year. Now, to get a sense of how much that is, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says think of a certain Chicago skyscraper.
TOM VILSACK: It's enough to fill 44 Sears Towers.
AUBREY: The Sears Tower is now called the Willis Tower, but you get the point. It's a lot.
VILSACK: And basically it ends up, for the most part, in landfills.
AUBREY: Where it rots and creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. And given how much water and energy it takes to produce food, the effects of food waste are even greater. To make Americans more conscious of this problem, Vilsack along with the EPA and partners including grocery stores and food banks, have joined together to announce a new national goal.
VILSACK: Basically challenge the country to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.
AUBREY: Vilsack says there are lots of ways to make this happen. Farms and grocery stores can scale up efforts to donate food, and in our own homes, lots of us can make simple changes that may help. Given our current habits, the typical American household tosses out $1,500 worth of food every year. Here's Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
DANA GUNDERS: It's like walking out of the grocery store with four bags of food, dropping one in the parking lot, and not even bothering to pick it up at all. And that's crazy.
AUBREY: Gunders says a lot of what we toss out is still OK. We tend to take sell-by dates on food a little too seriously.
GUNDERS: A lot of people misunderstand expiration dates.
AUBREY: The dates stamped on food are really a manufacturer's best guess as to when a product is at its freshest. So...
GUNDERS: Often the products can be eaten days, weeks, even months after those dates.
AUBREY: Take eggs, they're usually good for weeks after the sell-by date. And you can actually test them. Put them in a bowl of water and if they sink to the bottom, they're still good. Gunders says even food that looks bad may be OK.
GUNDERS: Most vegetables that wilt can be soaked in a bowl of ice water, and that will crisp them up.
AUBREY: And that milk that's gone a little sour? It's actually safe to use in your pancake or biscuit batter.
GUNDERS: I had no idea, but actually cooking with sour milk is delicious. It substitutes for buttermilk.
AUBREY: Now, don't go overboard here. Foods like meat and poultry have higher risks of contamination. If they smell bad or look off, it's probably best just to toss them in the trash. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.