Americans waste an estimated 40 percent of the food they buy. In fact, the average person wastes an estimated 25 pounds of food every month, and dairy products are thrown out more than other foods, even produce. Learning kitchen tricks and strategies to store dairy products properly can help reduce food waste.

There are many ways to make a difference, including using products correctly and being creative in the kitchen.

* To toss could be a loss. Research conducted by the Midwest Dairy Association found more than half of consumers don’t understand the meaning of “Sell-By” or “Use-By” dates on dairy products. These dates actually indicate peak quality, not safety. Dairy products can be safely consumed beyond the “Sell-By,” “Best-By” or Use-By” dates up to one week for milk, up to 10 days for yogurt and weeks or months for most soft and hard cheeses.

* Know when to throw it. Discard dairy products if they have an off flavor, odor or appearance. Soft cheese or yogurt with mold should be discarded. Mold on hard cheese should be removed by cutting off a 1-inch square around the affected area and throwing it away; the rest is safe to eat.

* Love your dairy leftovers. Rely on dairy’s versatility to transform leftover ingredients into a new creative meal idea. For example, milk and cheese can help turn tonight’s roasted turkey breast into tomorrow’s Turkey Tetrazzini with Cheddar and Parmesan.

* Portion and freeze future meals. Soups, stews and casseroles all freeze well, including those that contain dairy products. Milk is best when used within three months of freezing and yogurt when used within two months. For best quality, soft cheeses should be used within two to three months of freezing and hard cheese within six months.

* Put nutrition first. Many experts agree eating too many calories is a form of food waste; it can impact health and lead to chronic disease, including obesity. Maximize food choices with healthy, nutrient-rich options. For example, milk, cheese and yogurt provide a unique package of nine essential nutrients, and three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products have been shown to improve overall diet quality, promote good health and reduce the risk of various chronic diseases.

Go to MidwestDairy.com to find more tips to reduce food waste and recipes to help put your leftovers to good use.