Conservation Corner: Food waste

Pauline Lee

Did you know that one-third of all the food production in the world is lost or wasted? This amount of food is worth US $750 billion. In less developed countries, losses are due mainly to food decay in the field and spoilage on the way to the market. Curiously in the U.S., 40 percent of the loss in production is due to rejection of produce that is regarded as lacking in appeal. Furthermore, our federal statistics show national food waste by consumers has progressively increased from about 30 percent of available food supply in 1974 to almost 40 percent in recent years. Yet one in six Americans does not have enough to eat. In 2010 the University of Arizona reported that a family of four annually discards food worth around $590 and that 33.79 million tons of food were wasted in the nation.

What happens to discarded food? Trucks that burn fossil fuel carry it to landfills, where each ton of decomposing food emits 3.8 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Unfortunately, food waste costs us about $165 billion a year and sucks up 25 percent of our freshwater supply. In view of such waste, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is challenging the country to voluntarily reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030. “Rather than pitch [food], let’s figure out how to redirect it, and salvage it,” says Vilsack.

There are several ways to reduce food waste. Imperfect produce can be sold at reduced price. Usable items and leftovers can be donated to food pantries and nonprofits. Industry research shows 55 percent of purchases in grocery stores are unplanned; so make sure you have time to eat these impulse purchases before you buy them. Food spoilage can be prevented by proper storage. Since our refrigerators are cooler in the bottom and warmer at the top, food more sensitive to spoilage and wilting should be stored near the bottom. Eggs should not be kept on doors where they are exposed to room temperature whenever the refrigerator door is opened. Wilted greens can be rejuvenated by soaking them in cold water. Cut-up vegetables keep best in air-tight containers. Milk that turns sour can still be used in baked goods without any bad taste. Items that pass their sell-by dates may still be safe to consume. The freezer can prolong usage for leftover chopped onion, excess milk or other food items.

What can you to do reduce the food waste in your home?