Love Your Dairy Leftovers Back »

Photo courtesy of Midwest Dairy Council

Written by Whitney Jerman under the direction and review of Ann Schwader.

Did you know Americans waste an estimated 40 percent of our food; or that dairy products are thrown out more than other foods — even produce? In fact, the average person wastes an estimated 25 pounds of food every month. By learning strategies to store dairy products properly and use dairy-inspired kitchen tricks, everyone can help reduce food waste.

Understanding Product Freshness Dates

Research conducted by Midwest Dairy found more than half of consumers don’t understand the various “sell-by” or “use-by” dates on dairy products. This confusion contributes to the fact that dairy products are thrown out more often than other foods, with more than 25 billion pounds wasted each year.

  • The “sell-by” date is the last day the grocery store should sell the product. You should buy the product on or before this date.
  • Know the facts - dairy products can be safely consumed beyond the “sell-by” and “best-by” or “use-by” dates:
    • Milk for up to one week.
    • Yogurt up to 10 days.
    • Soft cheese between one and four weeks.
    • Hard cheeses from one to 10 months.
  • Reduce overall food waste and resist the urge to toss food on the “best-by,” “best if used by” and “use-by” dates, which indicate peak quality, not safety. Look for key safety indicators, instead:
    • Discard dairy products if they have an off flavor, odor or appearance.
    • Soft cheese or yogurt with mold should be discarded.
    • Mold on hard cheese should be removed by cutting off a one-inch square around the affected area and throwing it away — the rest is safe to eat.

Tips to Reduce Your Dairy Food Waste

  • To toss could be a loss! Don’t throw out dairy just because it’s reached the “Best-By” or Use-By” date. Instead, use dates as a cue to incorporate dairy into a meal or recipe. For example, this Turkey Tetrazzini will help use up milk before it spoils.
  • Milk dairy products for all they’re worth. That large container of yogurt can be used for multiple meals and snacks. Use it as a delicious topping on your morning pancakes, and then add it to a smoothie for an afternoon pick-me-up or refreshing evening treat.
  • Love your dairy leftovers! Rely on dairy’s versatility to transform leftover ingredients into a new creative meal idea. For example, cheese and yogurt can help turn tonight’s roasted chicken into tomorrow’s Easy Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas.
  • Portion and freeze leftovers for a quick future meal. Soups, stews, casseroles and this Slow Cooker Fresh Veggie Lasagna all freeze well.

By following these tips, we can all reduce the food we waste—and save money in the process. As a registered dietitian, I’ve found that creativity in the kitchen and careful planning are great ways to help me reduce the food that I throw out. I’ve recently added a plastic container in my refrigerator where I place products that need to be used first. I challenge you to find a creative strategy that helps you reduce food waste in your home.

More Information

Find additional dairy information, nutrition tips and recipes at Midwest Dairy Council.

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