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A Food Waste Problem: Your Kitchen & Around the World

PHOTO: The average American throws out about 20 pounds of food a month, which ends up costing $300 to $500 a year. Photo credit: John Michaelson
PHOTO: The average American throws out about 20 pounds of food a month, which ends up costing $300 to $500 a year. Photo credit: John Michaelson
February 11, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's a major opportunity to address the growing global demand for food and, in Minnesota 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; and globally, crop production has only increased about 20 percent in the last 20 years, despite all those efforts," Foley said. "And here's 40 percent of the world's food that is sitting around rotting."

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

Foley said much of the 40 percent of food waste in the U.S. and other wealthy nations occurs along the supply chain, with foodstuffs being tossed out of home refrigerators, and at places like 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," Foley said. "So, we have these big food waste problems everywhere in the world, but it kind of depends on the context of where you are."

For the consumer, there are a number of ways to reduce food waste, keeping it out of landfills and keeping more money in your pocket. 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.

Foley said a change in shopping habits can also help.

"I know this sounds inconvenient, but to try to shop a bit more frequently and maybe less volume," he suggested. "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,'" he added.

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

More information on food waste is at bit.ly/uVUJCB and at bit.ly/l70w4R.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN