Before your spinach gets slimy or your strawberries start to sprout tiny forests of mold, a new app will remind you they’re hidden in the back of your fridge. Then it suggests a few recipes to use them up.
“We wanted to try to start to make a dent in some of the millions and millions of pounds of food that go to landfill every year,” says Brianna McGuire, co-founder of Foodfully. The average American now tosses out around 20 pounds of food a month–50% more than we did in the 1970s–wasting hundreds or thousands of dollars in a year and all of the resources that went into growing, storing, and transporting the food.
If you buy groceries online with a service like Instacart, the app can sync with your account to keep track of your latest deliveries. At brick-and-mortar stores, it can track purchases through loyalty cards. For places where the app can’t connect automatically, you can take a picture of your receipt. You can also tell the app what you just bought at the grocery store.
After the app knows what you have in the pantry, it uses the team’s own database of how likely any particular food is to last. “This is an entirely new source of data,” she says. “No one has ever tried to assemble how food goes bad in American households.”
The co-founders met as grad students at the University of California-Davis, where McGuire was studying the diseases that make food like produce spoil.
“Working in that realm of trying to prevent diseases on plants, you see the enormous amount of effort that goes into reducing pathogen pressure while plants are growing, and basically up until the point that the food item is purchased,” she says. “Once the food is purchased, most people aren’t really curious about what’s causing that food item or that produce item to go bad.”
Knowing how long something will last is key to helping reduce waste, the startup believes. So is knowing what to do with it–especially if you’re left with a random assortment of ingredients–which is why the app also offers recipes.
If you use a recipe, the app automatically deletes those ingredients from your inventory. You can also tell it what you tend to eat every day, like breakfast cereal, so it doesn’t include it in the recipes. Other food can be deleted by telling the app with a voice command, or swiping on a particular ingredient.
It’s designed to be simple and as unobtrusive as possible, sending reminders only every two or three days, at a time when you’re likely to be thinking about what to have for dinner. “I’m building this app for myself,” says McGuire, who only has eight other apps on her phone and tries to minimize screen time.
“My goal when I think about my food is to share it with my friends and my family and those I love and to make delicious things,” she says. “I just want the phone to be there on the periphery to optimize the way I want to live my life…once you’re in the app, it’s just really simple way of visualizing what you have and ways to use it.”
The app is currently in beta testing; early estimates indicate it may help someone eliminate as much as half of their food waste. Foodfully will come out near the end of 2015.