Remember when your mom used to tell you to clean your plate “because there were starving children in Africa?”
Turns out that your mom was right — food waste has become a very serious problem not only globally, but also here in the U.S.
According to National Geographic, an American family of four trashes an average of $1,484 worth of edible food a year.
Most families don’t do it intentionally; they often don’t realize the amount of food they buy
which never gets eaten through bulk purchases, poor storage, throwing away food after its “best by” date when it’s still safe to eat. Sometimes “doggy bags” from last night’s restaurant meal lose their appeal and get tossed in the trash several days later.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that one-third of food produced for human consumption worldwide is annually lost or wasted along the chain that stretches from farms to processing plants, marketplaces, retailers, food-service operations and family kitchens.
This food waste amounts to about $162 billion and is never eaten.
Restaurants, in particular, feel the food waste deeply on their bottom line, but don’t always have an easy way to solve it.
“The biggest challenge is simply the logistics of it,” said Mark Hamel, co-owner of The Laundry, CRUST, El Topo and The Relief & Resource Co., all in downtown Fenton. “We used to have volunteers who’d pick up leftover food throughout the year. The problem is, we can’t store it, so we need someone who can pick it up early in the morning or the last thing at night. It’s difficult to coordinate it to get it to the people who need it.”
Food rescue logistics are even an issue for food professionals at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan in Flint. Spokesperson Patrick Hayes said they don’t have an active program because it requires an agency structure or a partner who can transport food while meeting the health guidelines of the Genesee County Health Department. “We can do it on a case-by-case basis,” Hayes said. “If there’s the right circumstance of having a partner who can provide transportation with heating and cooling, we could do it.”
Hamel tries to prevent waste at his restaurants before it happens. It’s a challenge at CRUST, where the majority of products have only a one-day shelf life.
“We use leftover bread for bread pudding, French toast, etc.,” he said. “We try to use everything until it’s no good. But we still have a significant amount left.”
He and his staff throw vegetable scraps into their on-site garden that supplies much of The Laundry’s fresh produce. They also provide bread and pastries to the local farm that supplies the restaurants with pork and beef products.
A couple of churches and local food banks also pick up some of the leftovers, but not on a regular basis.
“We don’t give any organizations food that has passed its expiration date, even if it’s totally safe to eat,” Hamel added. “It’s got to go into the dumpster.”
Jason Warda, who owns the Fenton Pub, The Barn and Lake Ponemah Lodge restaurants in Fenton, said that his restaurants don’t produce much waste compared to buffet-style restaurants, but they do have a significant amount of bread left over at the end of a day.
“When I owned Jimmy Johns in Grand Blanc, there was a guy who grabbed our bread and gave it to a soup kitchen,” Warda said. “If we could just figure out how to do it, we’d do that here.”
Panera Bread in Fenton does have scheduled pickups at the end of the day for leftover bread products to go to different food banks and pantries.
Hamel said that large plate portions, especially in buffet events, result in a lot of food waste. “The amount of uneaten food off peoples’ plates could feed a small country,” he said. “There’s a mentality today that doesn’t seem to mind wasting food. It’s so different than in the Depression days of our grandparents. They didn’t waste a single thing.”
How to reduce food waste at home
Planning, prepping, and storing food can help your household waste less food.
BEST TIP: By simply making a list with weekly meals in mind, you can save money and time and eat healthier food. If you buy no more than what you expect to use, you will be more likely to keep it fresh and use it all.
For more tips, visit epa.gov.
WHAT DOES THE LABELING MEAN?
According to the USDA:
A “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.