It's a glutinous time of the year with big family gatherings over the holidays and huge piles of food being eaten. But how much of it is going to waste?

A study from Cherry Digital asked more than 3,000 people to see how much food was thrown away each year because it was expired. And perhaps a bit surprisingly, Louisiana came in as one of the least wasteful states in the United States.

According to the data, Louisiana households waste about $855 worth of food every year. The national average, however, was $907.

Fast food items like hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and pizza
wildpixel, Getty Stock / ThinkStock
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Which state is the worst offender?

Compare Louisiana to the most wasteful state, and it's a big difference. That dubious distinction goes to the Palmetto State, South Carolina, which wastes $1,304.68 worth of food each year.

While were doing pretty good in The Bayou State, West Virginia residents did the best, wasting only $404 worth of their groceries per year.

What do we throw out the most?

Here are the food categories that Americans throw away the most because they've expired before eating:

  • Dairy products (46.6%)
  • Meat (22.3%)
  • Fish (19.2%)
  • Vegetables (8.5%)
  • Bread (5.1%)
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Understanding the dates on food

Why does so much food go bad? Well, a lot of people really don't understand the "best by" date on food.

According to Cherry Media, about 21% of people surveyed knew the date means it's when the quality of the product is at its peak.

About 30% of respondents thought it was the last date the product could be eaten while 22% thought it was the final date it could be sold in stores.

Admittedly, it is very confusing.

According to the USDA Food and Inspection Safety Service, there are four commonly used phrases you'll see on food packaging:

  • Best if Used By/Before
  • Sell-By
  • Use-By
  • Freeze-By

Unless the "Use-By" label is on baby formula, it is not a safety date. The USDA says that many products, if you store them properly, are good to eat until they spoil. You'll know that point when there are changes in texture, taste, or smell.

The USDA recommends a "Best if Used By" date to avoid confusion. They said it would cut down on the estimated 30% of annual food waste at the consumer and retail levels.

Most popular grocery stores in America

The most popular grocery stores in America, from corporate chains to family-owned enterprises. Stacker ranked them using consumer ratings sourced from YouGov polls.

Gallery Credit: Stacker

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