Spoiler Alert: New USDA App Helps Fight Food Waste

The USDA estimates that 21 percent of food consumers buy goes to waste. It's bad for our bodies, bad for our wallets, and bad for the planet. Instead of just telling us, the USDA released an app for iPhone and Android that it hopes will help solve the problem by sending us alerts when food is about to go bad.

Food waste is a huge problem—the USDA also estimates that at the retail and consumer level (meaning, once the food gets to the store), about 36 pounds of food per person in America goes to waste each month. That’s bad in just about every way; it means we’re losing money, losing resources like now-especially-precious water, filling up landfills and relying on shelf-stable foods (which tend to be less healthy than fresh).

So in 2013, the USDA, along with the EPA, began something called the Food Waste Challenge, which tasks everyone from farmers to producers to customers to lessen food waste, for the good of everyone. The latest effort is an app for iPhone and Android.

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The app, called FoodKeeper, was created by the USDA in concert with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute (the latter is a kind of representative organization for food suppliers that handles some research, some outreach and some food safety stuff for supermarkets and pharmacies). It has different categories for everything you might find in a supermarket, from fresh produce to baby food to deli meats to frozen foods, and tells you how long those foodstuffs can be expected to last in a fridge or freezer. You tap either “fridge” or “freezer” to indicate how you’re storing a particular item, and it opens your calendar app to make an alarm for when the food is about to go bad, so you can make sure to eat it. It also has some other tips, like recommended internal temperatures for meats, as well as healthy recipes. And there’s a virtual assistant named “Karen” to whom you can address questions about food safety, a sort of guided FAQ.

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The app is surprisingly slick, in our limited testing, though it can take a while to input all your groceries. But it’s a smart and pretty easy way to help reduce food waste, at least in your own fridge. You can download it for free now: go here for iPhone and here for Android.

Top image via Flickr user Kazue Asano

Spoiler Alert: New USDA App Helps Fight Food Waste