America’s Rotten Secret: Food Waste

Food waste has become a larger problem than cleaning out your fridge every once in a while. Experts estimate that wasted food could fill up the Rose Bowl Stadium every day, or 320,000 jumbo jets every year!

The problem of food waste has been subtly growing each year with chances for losing food at each step of the supply chain.

For example, at the harvesting stage, an employee might forgo picking a bruised cucumber in favor of a perfectly green one. Farmers have estimated that fewer than half of all veggies actually leave a farm.

In this example, the perfect cucumber makes it all the way to a grocery store produce section. Unfortunately, shoppers continually bypass it, and it starts to get blemished, so the grocer eventually throws it away. These situations are all too common and regularly contribute to food waste, totaling 31 percent of our annual food supply.

Let’s explore three common places food is discarded before it gets to your table.

  1. Farming and Harvesting

The problem starts with growers producing too many crops. In the United States, it’s estimated that seven percent of fields go unharvested each year because of a surplus in supply. In addition, harvesters are trained to leave blemished and bruised crops behind in favor of perfectly pretty fruits and veggies. Farmers speculate that fewer than one-half of all veggies actually leave farms.

  1. Distribution

During transit, foods can get damaged because of improper preservation methods and human error. In some cases, full truckloads of food can be rejected by distribution centers when there’s a surplus of product. Suppliers try to find alternative buyers, but entire shipments can be dumped if a buyer isn’t found in time. Additionally, products will have shorter shelf lives when they do make it to a store, putting food at greater risk of waste.

  1. Retail

As much as 80 percent of food waste occurs at the retail level. That’s why extending shelf-life can dramatically improve the opportunity shoppers have to purchase products. Methods such as High Pressure Processing (HPP) are effective to inactivate spoilage organisms while retaining nutritional value and taste.

Retailers are powerful players in the food supply chain because they can affect both producers and customers. Food buyers often create strict contracts holding suppliers to deliver a certain amount of product. To ensure retail demands are met, farmers plant extra crops in case their harvest is damaged.

Moreover, consumer food waste begins at the retail level with bulk discounts and promotions that encourage impulse buys. Consumers are enticed to purchase food they don’t need, which in turn creates more food waste.