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Fight a World Food Shortage: Learn to Love Leftovers

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 15, 2013

PHOENIX – With hundreds of millions of people around the globe hungry and the problem only expected to get worse, one new focus in Arizona and other states is on how to reduce food waste.

Professor Jon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, says 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 ends up in landfills.

"We've spent billions and billions of dollars trying to get crops to grow faster, to improve yields,” he says, “and globally, crop production has only increased about 20 percent in the last 20 years, despite all those efforts. And here's 40 percent of the world's food that is sitting around rotting."

Foley says much of the 40 percent of food waste in the U.S. and other wealthy nations occurs along the supply chain, being tossed out of home refrigerators, and at places such as restaurants and cafeterias.

"In poor countries, it's also about 30 to 40 percent,” he says, “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. 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 says a change in shopping habits can also help.

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

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

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ