Can I eat that? New app warns you before food expires

app_blogDo you find yourself throwing away uneaten groceries you forgot were hanging out in the back of your refrigerator? Or wondering if you can still eat that bacon that you accidently left on your counter overnight?  Well, a new app from the USDA will now remind you when groceries are about to expire and will tell you if that questionable food is actually safe to eat.

The app, called Foodkeeper, is an updated version of a food safety brochure developed by the USDA with Cornell University and the nonprofit Food Science Institute.  “We thought; why not make it a little more interactive?” Chris Bernstein, team lead for food safety education at USDA, said in a recent article.

While the consumer is responsible for inputting the items they bought, the app then automatically calculates how long they’ll last, and sends you a notification so you have time to use them before they go bad.

“I use it for items I’m not going to use right away—something that’s going to sit around in my pantry for a while or some produce I might forget to use,” Bernstein said in the article. “Say I bought flour, which is usually good for up to two years. I can guarantee in a year and a half, I’m not going to remember when I bought that flour.”

The app can also answers questions when you are worried about mishandled food. For example, Bernstein said in the article, that after getting stuck in a snowstorm for 12 hours during a drive from Washington, D.C. to Buffalo, New York, he wonder if the bag of grapes he brought with him were still safe to eat. After checking the app, he learned that grapes can be unrefrigerated for 24 hours and still safe to consume, saving him money in the long-run.

The larger goal of the app is to help chip away at the country’s giant consumer food waste problem, the article states. Americans throw out about 25% of the food they buy, with average families spending as much as $2,275 a year on food that ends up in landfills.

“Our hope is that by providing an application that can really educate consumers about the safety and quality of food and appropriate timetables, they’ll be able to purchase more appropriate quantities, instead of purchasing huge quantities of stuff that may go bad,” Bernstein said. “With the notifications on the calendar, it will also remind folks to use those products that may be approaching the end of their lifespan, so we can really reduce food waste as a whole.”

The app also helps circumvent unhelpful food labeling including the “best by,” “sell by” and “use by” dates. “There are so many terms that organizations put on foods, and they are not always clear what they mean,” Bernstein said. “Consumers sometimes think the sell by date means the food should be tossed out by then, when that’s not accurate at all. Even some foods with dates meant for consumers can actually be used after the stated date—and that’s what we hope they learn with this app.”

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