Go Further with Food: Food Waste

It’s (finally) March. The month where we celebrate St. Patrick, college basketball, spring and, if you’re a registered dietitian, March madness is all about National Nutrition Month. Every March the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics launches a nutrition education and information campaign, reminding us all about the importance of our food choices, eating behaviors and physical activity habits. This year’s theme is “Go Further with Food.” The first article in this Food Insight series focuses on food waste.

What is food waste? The USDA says it occurs when edible items go unconsumed. A food may go unconsumed for many reasons, such as grocery stores throwing out fresh fruits and vegetables based solely on appearance. This practice doesn’t just happen in grocery stores — it can take place in the home too.

Not only is food waste a waste of money, but it’s also a waste of important nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Wasting fruits, vegetables, dairy products and seafood, which are a few of the most commonly wasted foods, also means a loss of protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin D, that help your body function properly.

Food waste may make you think of a similar term: “food loss.” How do they differ? Food waste is closely related to food loss, the latter of which is the amount of food that is available for human consumption after harvest but is not consumed. Food loss could occur for a number of reasons such as damaging agricultural conditions, improper storage conditions, cooking or shrinkage of produce.

Wasted food impacts all parts of the food supply chain from the farm to the table. The cost of producing uneaten food affects farmers, business owners and the economy. When production costs rise, consumers face higher food prices. At home, money is wasted when unfinished plate scraps or spoiled foods are tossed into the trash. Food waste even impacts the environment, as it squanders resources used to produce food, and it populates landfills, a practice that contributes to global warming over time. It is important to note that many U.S. households are food-insecure, meaning that millions of people lack adequate access to food.

Although food waste occurs all throughout the food supply chain, consumers are most responsible for the majority of wasted food that ends up in landfills. The average American tosses out about 300 pounds of food per year, which amounts to billions of pounds of wasted food. These implications highlight the necessity to focus on reducing food waste. It can be prevented, and it can start with you.

To become a food waste warrior in your own home, ask yourself: What can I do to prevent food waste? Meal planning and prepping are great ways to help you use the foods you have at home. Before you go grocery shopping, take a peek into your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Write up a grocery list including items that you don’t already have so that you shop only for the things you know that you need. Once you’re back home after shopping, be sure to properly store your groceries by knowing which produce needs to be refrigerated (like apples, oranges, or packaged produce). Keep in mind that some produce, like apples, can cause others to ripen more quickly. Following a grocery list and knowing how to store produce will aid in preventing food waste at home.

Confusion about dates on foods is another big contributor to food waste. Learn the difference between use by,” “best by” and “sell by” dates so that you don’t throw out food before it has actually spoiled. But at the same time, practice good food safety habits and don’t risk eating anything that you think has spoiled.

Do you eat out often? Restaurants and foodservice companies are working to reduce food waste from farm to fork. You too can reduce food waste when eating away from home. When eating out, be mindful of portion sizes and ask for a takeout box to store your leftovers. Be sure to consume them within three to four days for best quality. Also, be creative when reusing your leftovers! Transform Monday night’s dinner into a healthy, tasty Tuesday afternoon lunch. If you have extra food in your home, donate it to a local food pantry to help those who are food-insecure.

Food waste is a prevalent issue in today’s society. But we have the power to prevent it. By learning about food waste and its implications, we can reduce its impact, starting with you. Don’t waste time this National Nutrition Month — make an effort to go further with your food by practicing methods of food waste prevention.

This blog was written by Morgan Manghera, a communications intern at George Washington University.