Food safety from farm to fridge to garbage can (compost pile)

When in doubt throw it out.

That’s the food safety mantra of help lines, web sites and other food safety sages dispensing wisdom for the masses.

So it’s hardly surprising that according to the New York Times, a quarter to half of all food produced in the United States goes uneaten — left in fields, spoiled in transport, thrown out at the grocery store, scraped into the garbage or forgotten until it spoils.

A study in Tompkins County, N.Y., showed that 40 percent of food waste occurred in the home. Another study, by the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, found that 93 percent of respondents acknowledged buying foods they never used.

And worries about food safety prompt many of us to throw away perfectly good food. In a study at Oregon State University, consumers were shown three samples of iceberg lettuce, two of them with varying degrees of light brown on the edges and at the base. Although all three were edible, and the brown edges easily cut away, 40 percent of respondents said they would serve only the pristine lettuce.

Personally, I try to minimize the waste by regularly biking to the supermarket and buying food for a couple of days only. I still waste food, especially because I prefer marked down produce about to go bad, and if it’s not used quickly, it goes. Also, we’re a family of three. When I was part of a family of six, there would be some bicycle trips to the grocery store with a kid or two in the trailer, but usually larger quantities of food were kept on hand.

Instead of blaming consumers, maybe the message should be adjusted. When consistently telling people, “when in doubt, throw it out,” there’s going to be a paranoic level of food waste.