(Orange, Texas)

February 13, 2013

A Food Waste Problem: Your Kitchen & Around the World

Special to The Leader
The Orange Leader

AUSTIN, Texas — Reducing waste. It's a major opportunity to address the growing global demand for food and, in Texas and across the United States, to slow the rising cost of groceries. 

According to Professor Jon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, huge investments have been made on increasing food production, but not enough is being done to reduce the amount of food that's being wasted and ending up in landfills.

"We've spent billions and billions of dollars trying to get crops to grow faster, to improve yields," Foley said, 'yet globally, crop production has only increased about 20 percent in the last 20 years, despite all those efforts. And here's 40 percent of the world's food that is sitting around rotting."

Much of the 40 percent of food waste in the U.S. and other wealthy nations occurs along the supply chain, Foley explained, with foodstuffs being tossed out of home refrigerators, and dumped at places like restaurants and cafeterias.

"In poor countries, it's also about 30 to 40 percent," he said, "but mostly between the farmer and the distributor - the crop never got to distribution. It rotted in a storage system; it never got to a train or a truck. So, we have these big food waste problems everywhere in the world, but it kind of depends on the context of where you are."

Already, hundreds of millions of people in the world are hungry, and the number is predicted to grow along with the population, which is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

Consumers have a number of ways to reduce food waste, keep it out of landfills and keep more money in their pocket. For example, Foley suggested, use up leftovers and learn how to tell when food goes bad - it isn't always the "sell-by" or "use-by" date - and change shopping habits.

"I know this sounds inconvenient, but try to shop a bit more frequently and maybe for less volume," he said. "Have a small market near your house for things that are more perishable, like milk, eggs, meat and that kind of thing. For nonperishable stuff, that's where maybe you stock up and say, 'I can buy all the boxes of cereal I want. They're not going to go bad for a long time.'" 

According to Foley, the average American throws away between $300 and $500 worth of food each year, with the biggest losses in meat and seafood.