LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Most families in the United States toss out an estimated 40 percent of the food they buy. With hundreds of millions of people around the globe going hungry, there's a renewed focus on reducing food waste.
It's a major opportunity to address the growing global demand for food and, in Arkansas and across the nation, to slow the rising cost of groceries.
Huge investments have been made to increase food production, said Professor Jon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, but not enough is being done to reduce the amount of food that's being wasted and ends up in landfills.
"We've spent billions and billions of dollars trying to get crops to grow faster, to improve yields - and globally, crop production has only increased about 20 percent in the last 20 years, despite all those efforts," he said. "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 United States and other wealthy nations occurs along the supply chain, said Foley, being tossed out of home refrigerators, and at restaurants and cafeterias.
"In poor countries, it's also about 30 to 40 percent, but mostly between the farmer and the distributor - that 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."
As a consumer, there are a number of ways to reduce food waste, keeping it out of landfills and keeping more money in your pocket, he said. They include using up leftovers and learning how to tell when food goes bad - and it isn't always the "sell-by" or "use-by" date. A change in shopping habits also can help, he added.
"Try to shop a bit more frequently and maybe less volume," he said. "For example, having a small market near your house for things that are more perishable, like milk and eggs, and meat and that kind of thing. And nonperishable stuff - that's where maybe you stock up and say, 'Well, hey, I can buy all the boxes of cereal I want. They're not going to go bad for a long time.'"
The average American family throws away about 20 pounds of food a month, worth $300 to $500 a year, he said, with the biggest losses in meat and seafood.
More information on food waste is online at worldhunger.org and nrdc.org.
(Source: Chris Thomas/Arkansas News Service)