How Much Food Do Americans Waste?
Hunger is a problem in many areas of the world, but it is also important for us to remember that an estimated 50 million Americans face hunger every day. Yet a full 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. Twenty pounds of food, per American, is wasted every month. That is a total of $165 billion of food, every year, that winds up in landfills and decays (adding to emissions from methane). If we could reduce that amount by even 15 percent, we could cut hunger among Americans by half.
Food is wasted at every link in the food supply chain. Vegetables that are below food buyers’ standards rot in farm fields. Food spilled or spoiled during processing and distribution to stores is taken out of circulation. These items account for one-third of waste, but a full two-thirds of waste happens at the consumer level.
Of course, some foods are more subject to waste than others. Perishable items such as fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers, are the most apt to be wasted. Next are fish and seafood, then dairy, meat, grains, legumes and seeds. Estimates say the average American consumer wastes 10 times as much food as the average person living in Southeast Asia.
How can we reduce the amount of food we waste? Here are some tips:
- Purchase only as much food as you need.
- Check out the clearance section. Buying there will keep food out of landfills, and you will find some great bargains.
- Organize your refrigerator. Some areas of your fridge are colder than others, and some (like the door shelves) fluctuate in temperature. Put your highly perishable items in the coldest and most temperature-stable areas of your refrigerator.
- Make a “vacuum pack” to protect food from oxygen and airborne bacteria that accelerate decay. Keep produce in the grocery bag, hug it against your chest and use your arm to express air out. Then seal it using a twist tie. There are also automatic vacuum sealers you can purchase and use.
- Understand expiration dates. Research indicates more than 90 percent of people throw food out prematurely based on “use by” and “sell by” dates. Except in the case of baby formula, there is no centralized agency to establish expiration dates on food. In fact, most foods are safe to eat even after their expiration date. For example, eggs are usually fresh three to five weeks after purchase. Apples stay fresh in the refrigerator for three weeks and, if cooked, can be frozen for eight months. Cereal is typically fresh for a year, and meat is generally safe in the freezer for nine months. Perhaps the single best thing you can do is to avoid processed food and buy fresh food that is locally grown.
- Cook with whole vegetables. Leave the skin on, and if you are eating root vegetables like beets and turnips, cook the greens.
- Compost food scraps.
- Freeze leftovers such as stews, soups and sauces.
- Get creative with your leftovers, making them into soups, casseroles or salads.
- Share your leftovers with someone else. Many towns have organizations such as City Harvest that will distribute prepared or purchased food to people in need. You can also donate produce you will not be eating or excess produce from your garden.
- Take advantage of new technology. Apps such as CropMobster, SpoilerAlert and LeftoverSwap.com are designed to help people share food.
- Donate food scraps; often local zoos or farms will accept food scraps for animal feed.