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More on Food Waste

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

My comment in last week’s blog about throwing out food touched a nerve for several people so I thought I’d dig into it a little more.  Globally, food waste or unused edible food weighs in at 1.3 billion metric tons or 1/3 of all food produced. Recovering just 25% of that would feed 870 million hungry people. 

In the U.S., we throw away an average 430 pounds per person which can cost a family of four around $1,500 per year. 30 – 40% of all food grown is not eaten. That’s a lot of food. And it costs $218 billion annually to grow, manufacture, process, distribute and dispose of that food.  That’s a lot of money.  

The Environmental Protection Agency reported that food waste is 21.6% of garbage shipped to municipal landfills and incinerators.  This is problematic because the produce in landfills produces methane gas which contributes to climate change. 

The United Nations recognizes this problem and Number 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns) proposes to halve the per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030. In fact, France is the first country to pass legislation prohibiting supermarkets from throwing away unused food. It must be donated or the market faces stiff fines.  Denmark has opened ‘ugly’ produce grocery stores.  (Ugly produce is produce that is below the standard for size, shape, color, or appearance but still perfectly good to eat/use.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also proposed to reduce food loss and waste by half by 2030. Kroger will be introducing a new line of Ugly Food called Pickuliar Picks beginning next year.  This is part of Kroger’s Zero Hunger/Zero Waste program launched in 2017. Remember, nearly one in seven Americans suffer from “food insecurity” or limited or uncertain access to adequate food.

Another reason to support the Senate version of the Farm Bill is that several measures to address food waste are included.  These include Food Donation Standards for Liability Protections, Spoilage Prevention, Milk Prevention Program, and others.

Also on the Federal Level, in July 2017 bills were introduce into both the House and the Senate to provide funding and establish requirements to reduce food waste by encouraging food donations and liability protection and standardize date labeling on food.  Unfortunately, neither bill has moved past committee. In our litigious society, grocery stores and restaurants are hesitant to donate food should someone eating it get sick.   

One big reason that individuals throw away food is because of the confusion about the “use by” and “sell by” dates on the label. “Best if used by” means the food is tastiest close to the date on the label but it’s still safe to eat once that date is passed. “Use by” is more concerned with safety, not quality, meaning the food becomes less safe to eat after the date. 

What can we do to reduce food waste? Consider these tips from Toby Amidor, a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. 

  • Make a shopping list to avoid buying duplicates of items you have and prevent impulse buys.
  • Understand the food labels (see above.)
  • Buy the exact amount you need. Buying more because it’s a bargain might result in waste.
  • Practice FIFO. First In, First Out means using up food you have in the fridge before using newer food.
  • Eat leftovers. Or cook only what you will eat in that meal.
  • Use leftover scraps.
  • Preserve. Pickle, freeze, can and/or dehydrate fruit or vegetables that were abundant in the summer or fall.

We can all take action to reduce food waste and encourage your legislators to support the Senate Farm Bill and those House and Senate Bills that address this issues. (HR 3444: Food Recovery Act of 2017, HR 954: FoodDonation Act of 2017, S 1680: Food Recovery Act of 2017)

You can also check out for more information on food saving actions.

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