The Department of Agriculture says 30% to 40% of food goes to waste in the United States — and the figure is likely higher because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some farmers have resorted to dumping milk and plowing over crops because the universities, schools and restaurants that normally purchase large quantities of food are closed.
People are throwing out less food in their homes, but more food is going to waste throughout the supply chain, says Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED. One part of the supply chain produces food for consumers, while the other caters to big businesses and organizations.
“You might have a dairy facility that's used to packing milk in huge bags that go into milk dispensers and can't necessarily switch very easily to gallon jugs,” she says. “So there are some kind of specialized equipment that have been hard to switch.”
To solve the problem, the government is buying a lot of this extra food and sending it to food pantries, she says.
Some restaurants are buying large quantities of ingredients such as yeast and flour, and then bagging it up to sell to customers, she says. This creative solution serves as an added revenue stream.
The challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic made the supply chain more flexible, she says.
New business relationships are forming, and transportation companies that typically work in the for-profit sector are entering the non-profit space, she says. Plus, new online marketplaces are allowing businesses to post extra food for people to purchase or ask for a donation.
“I think those are the types of changes that we will see live on well past this pandemic,” she says.
Consumers are making fewer but larger trips to the grocery store during the pandemic, she says, which makes it easy to adopt practices that can help reduce waste at home.
First, plan your meals better. Think through what you want to eat and need to buy, she recommends.
“Those who plan meals have dramatically less food go to waste,” she says. “When you have something like tortillas where you won't use the whole pack in one meal, try to think a few meals ahead when you can use the rest of those ingredients.”
Learning to store food better also reduces waste, she says. Put items in the correct packages and freeze what you’re not ready to use.
Use by dates indicate the freshness of the food, she says, not when the food goes bad or that it can make consumers sick.
“If you see the words ‘best by’ or ‘best if used by,’ those are foods you can eat well past the date as long as they look fine, taste fine and smell fine,” she says.
This segment aired on May 27, 2020.