Food Waste and Food Security Module
Module by Dr. Yinghua Huang
Welcome to the Food Waste and Food Security Module! In this module, you will learn how you – as a consumer – can act and engage others to reduce food waste effectively and sustainably. You’ll learn what food waste is, and why it matters, and gain knowledge on how to tackle the problem on personal, community, and policy levels. To begin, watch the Module Overview Video below.
By the end of the module you will have:
- Evaluate the causes of food loss and food waste and assess its impacts on the planet in terms of food security, sustainability and climate change.
- Investigate how changes in the way we shop, cook and store food can help reduce food waste.
- Reflect on your own personal contribution to the problem and discover shopping and storage tips that’ll help reduce waste at home.
- Apply the food waste hierarchy as a framework to guide your practices and live more sustainably.
- Produce actionable changes that can make an impact on your household and local community. Find out about how policies and initiatives can tackle food waste issue at a systemic level.
You can achieve this module's learning objective by accomplishing the following:
Please review the materials in this module
- Discussion #1: Date labeling and food waste
- Discussion #2: Food Waste Policy Finder
- Discussion #3: Just Eat It Documentary to share your thoughts with others.
- Assignment #1: Food Waste Diary
- Assignment #2: Food Waste Reduction Action Plan
Community Engagement Opportunity and Reflection Exercise
Sign up for a volunteer opportunity to support community food recovery activities. Write up a reflection essay about the Community Engagement Experience for Food Security.
Part 1: Overview of the Food Waste Problem
- 1.1 The Magnitude of Global Food Waste Problem
The amount of food the world currently wastes is overwhelming. Let's take a look at following statistics and facts:
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, around 1/3 of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.
- In the United States, nearly 40 million tons of food were discarded every year, which is estimated to be 30-40% of the entire U.S. food supply and equates to 219 pounds of waste per person. That’s like every person in America throwing more than 650 averagesized apples right into landfills. In fact, food is the single largest component taking up space inside U.S. landfills, making up 22% of municipal solid waste (RTS, 2021).
- According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. food waste leads to an economic loss of $218 billion per year. And, at the individual level, a household of four spends, on average, $1,500 or more, per year, on food that never gets eaten (PBS, 2019).
- When we throw foods away, we not only waste food but also enormous resources used for growing the food. Food and agriculture consume up to 16% of U.S. energy, almost half of all U.S. land and account for 67% of the nation’s freshwater use. Those resources are used in vain if the food is never eaten, wasting up to about one-fifth of U.S. cropland, fertilizers, and agricultural water (Gunders, 2017).
You may watch the video below to learn more facts about the scale of the food waste problem.
Food and Agriculture Organization (2021). Food Loss and Food Waste. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website.
Gunders, D. (2017). Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from Natural Resources Defense Council Report [pdf].
RTS (2021). Food Waste in America in 2021: Statistics + Facts. Retrieved from Recycle Track Systems Website.
PBS (2019). Americans waste up to 40 percent of the food they produce. Retrieved from the PBS website.
- Assignment 1
In the following week, please record all the unused food you and your household throw away each day, how much and the reason for doing so. This might be, for example, because you cooked too much, the item was past its ‘use by’ date or had started to go mouldy. For the purpose of this diary, ‘unused food’ excludes parts of the food that are not typically consumed such as peels, rinds, teabags or bones.
You can download and print this template [docx] to make your records on. Pin your diary to the fridge to remind you to fill it in.
You’ll find that recording your waste helps you to think about:
- What type of food and how much are you throwing away? Are there any patterns?
- Why are you throwing it away?
- Where are you disposing of the food - in the bin, compost or feeding it to a pet/domestic animal?
To record all the unused food your household throws away, you may have to ask the person(s) who buys and prepares the food in your house to help, or you could place this food waste diary in the kitchen where everyone can use it. However, we understand that this is not always possible, in which case you may like to keep this as an individual diary.
If you feel that you waste very little food, please try weighing a dedicated food waste bin at the beginning and end of this week and finding out how many kilos you throw away?
You will be asked to revisit your diary again later in the module once you’ve discovered some of the ways you might reduce the waste, and encouraging you to decide on some actions that will help you make improvements.
- 1.2 The Environmental Impacts of Food Waste
Wasted Food and Climate Change
Wasting food has irreversible environmental consequences: it wastes the water and energy it took to produce it, and generates greenhouse gases— 11% of the world’s emissions— like methane, carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons, which contribute to global warming. Food that sits decaying in landfills also produces nitrogen pollution, which causes algae blooms and dead zones.
- According to the World Wildlife Federation, about 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food. In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions (WWF, 2021).
- If imagined as a country, food waste’s climate-contributing emissions, at 4.4 GT CO2E, would place it as the 3th greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally, behind China and the United States (FAO, 2015).
Wasted Natural Resources
Allowing perfectly good food to go to waste is also wasteful of the natural resources that helped this food come to fruition in the first place. When we waste food, we waste the water, energy, and physical labor it took to produce, package, and ship this food.
- With agriculture accounting for 70% of the water used throughout the world, food waste also represents a great waste of freshwater and ground water resources. It is said that a volume of water roughly three times the volume of Lake Geneva is used just to produce food that is not eaten (FAO, 2015).
- By throwing out one kilogram of beef, you are essentially wasting 50,000 liters of water that were used to produce that meat. In the same way, nearly 1000 liters of water are wasted when you pour one glass of milk down the drain (Geneva Environment Network, 2021).
- If we look at land usage, around 1.4 billion hectares of land, which is roughly 1/3 the world’s total agricultural land area, is used to grow food that is wasted.
- Millions of gallons of oil are also wasted every year to produce food that is not eaten. And all this does not even take into account the negative impacts on biodiversity due to activities like monocropping and converting wild lands into agricultural areas (Move for Hunger, 2021).
For more information, please watch the following video about environmental impacts of food waste.
FAO. (2015). Food Wastage Footprint & Climate Change. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [pdf].
Geneva Environment Network (2021). World Food Day 2021. Retrieved from Geneva Environment Network
Move for Hunger (2021). The Environmental Impact of Food Waste. Retrieved from Move for Hunger.
World Wildlife Federation (2021). Fight climate change by preventing food waste. Retrieved from World Wide Life.
- 1.3 Food Waste and Global Hunger
Food Insecurity and Global Hunger
Along with chronic poverty, conflict and natural disasters, food waste is one of the root causes of hunger worldwide (UNWFP, 2021). The United Nations has set a global target as part of the Sustainable Development Goals to “End hunger by 2030 “. However, currently we are far from reaching this target. Let's take a look at the following facts about food insecurity across the world.
- 9% of the world population – around 697 million people – are severely food insecure.
- One-in-four people globally – 1.9 billion – are moderately or severely food insecure.
- 22% of children younger than five are ‘stunted’ – they are significantly shorter than the average for their age, as a consequence of poor nutrition or repeated infection.
- 663 million people globally –8.8% of the world’s population –are undernourished, this means they have a caloric intake below minimum energy requirements.
(Source: Our World in Data, linked here)
Food Insecurity in U.S.
In U.S., the fact is that we as a country are wasting 30-40% of the food supply each year when more than 38 million Americans are food insecure is unconscionable. Recent studies show that,
- 10.5% U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2020 (USDA, 2020).
- 6.1 million children lived in food-insecure households in which children, along with adults, were food insecure (USDA, 2020).
- The COVID-19 pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children and communities of color, who were already faced hunger at much higher rates before the pandemic (Feeding America, 2021).
As shown in the video below, if we can reverse current trend of food waste, we would preserve enough food to feed 2 billion people . That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe (UNWFP, 2021).
Economic Impact of Food Waste
While throwing away food, we also waste money. Approximately $1 trillion dollars’ worth of food is lost or wasted every year worldwide (UNWFP, 2021). In the U.S., Americans waste more than $218 billion each year on producing, transporting, and discarding food that isn't eaten. The average American family of four throws out $1,600 a year in produce. Multiply that by the typical 18 years that a child lives at home and you could easily pay for a year’s worth of tuition at any number of America’s private colleges or universities (Feeding America, 2021).
The US Department of Agriculture (2021). Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics & Graphics. Retrieved from Economic Research Service.
Feeding America (2021). Facts about hunger in America. Retrieved from Feeding America.
FAO (2013). Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [pdf].
FAO (2015). Food Wastage Footprint & Climate Change. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [pdf].
UN World Food Program (2021). 8 Facts to Know About Food Waste and Hunger. Retrieved from World Food Program USA.
- 1.4 The Sources of Food Loss and Food Waste
Think about the last good meal you had. Everything on your plate made its way there through a complex food chain – a long journey from farms to forks. Food is lost or wasted at different points along that chain and differs greatly around the world. Here’s the distinction of food loss and food waste:
- “Food loss” refers to food that spills, spoils, incurs an abnormal reduction in quality such as bruising or wilting, or otherwise gets lost before it reaches the consumer. Food loss typically takes place at the production, storage, processing, and distribution stages in the food value chain. It’s usually the unintended result of an agricultural process or technical limitation in storage, infrastructure, packaging, and/or marketing.
- “Food waste” refers to food that is of good quality and fit for consumption, but does not get consumed because it is discarded―either before or after it is left to spoil. Food waste typically, but not exclusively, takes place at the retail and consumption stages in the food value chain. It’s usually the result of negligence or a conscious decision to throw food away.
Although both food loss and waste happen all over the world, food loss tends to be more prevalent in developing countries, while food waste tends to be more prevalent in developed countries (UNWFP, 2021).
The pie chart below shows the breakdown of U.S. food loss and food waste generation by supply chain stages (Gunders, 2017). U.S. households collectively generate the largest share of food waste (43%), followed by restaurants (18%) and other food service institutions such as hospitals and schools (8%), and then farms (16%) and grocery supermarkets (13%).
Furthermore, the following infograph shows the breakdown of food loss and food waste at the retail and consumer levels combined by food category.
Note that added sugars and added fats and oils become ingredients in other food products. Consumer level estimates include both “in and out of home,” meaning that food ordered at all types of restaurants is included as well. Inedible parts of food not included.
Image Source: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-2017-report.pdf
Gunders, D. (2017). Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from Natural Resources Defense Council [pdf]
UNWFP (2021). Food Waste vs. Food Loss: Know the Difference and Help #StopTheWaste Today. World Food Program USA
- 1.5 What Cause Food Loss and Waste?
As food loss and food waste can happen at any stage of the food supply chain, many factors could contribute to food loss and waste. The list presents the common causes of food loss and waste in different supply chain stages.
- Weather/Disease: Natural phenomena harm crops and lead to excess planting to hedge against risk.
- Market Conditions: A crop’s price at time of harvest may not warrant the labor and transport costs required to bring it to market.
- Buyer Standards: Selective harvest for appearance, shelf life, and other requirements leads to crops left in the field.
- Labor Shortages: When harvest timing is critical, a labor shortage can lead to lower harvest rate.
- Food Safety Threats: Actual or perceived food safety concerns can lead to huge losses of product.
- Order Changes: Unpredictable order fluctuations and last-minute cancellations lead to product without a home.
- Bycatch: Unintended and/or unmarketable seafood species are caught during fishing, but not sold.
- Trimming: Removal of edible but undesirable portions (peels, stems, skin, fat) along with inedible portions (bones, pits).
- Processing Inefficiencies: Some steps in operations may lose more edible food than necessary.
- Equipment, Packaging, And Forecasting Errors: Mistakes and malfunctions can lead to surplus or unsaleable product.
- Improper Handling: Overhandling, improper temperature, lengthy transportation, and disruptions to cold chain can lead to damaged product.
- Food Expiration: Order changes and backups at loading docks and ports of entry can take up precious shelf life, causing product to pass contracted shelf life requirements
- Rejected Shipments: Rejected shipments will have shorter shelf life and limited buyers, making them difficult to sell before spoiling.
- Stock Management: Large inventories, full shelves, and improper stock rotation can lead to excess, old, or damaged product.
- Displays: Excessive product may be displayed in order to create the effect of abundance, which is believed to increase sales.
- Prepared Foods: Perishables in the deli, bakery, and ready-to-eat sections are discarded after a certain period of time.
- Date Labels: Though still consumable, products within 2-3 days of the date on their package are removed from shelves.
- Packing: Packaging methods can affect shelf life, and grouped products can be discarded when a single item in the group goes bad. Additionally, inflexible case sizes force smaller stores to order more than they expect to sell.
- Promotional Products: The passing of holidays and the high failure rate for new food items lead to increased discards.
- Staffing Challenges: With low staffing, there is less labor to prepare food on site and to rotate stock, leading to less flexibility in repurposing minimally damaged products. High turnover and poor training increase mishandling.
- Contract Terms: Rigid contract terms can cause growers to overplant to ensure contracts are filled. Last-minute order changes can leave suppliers with excess product.
- Cosmetic Standards: Aesthetic requirements imposed by the market lead to unharvested and culled edible produce upstream.
- Rejected Shipments: By the time a shipment is rejected, its contents have a shorter shelf life and may be difficult to sell elsewhere before spoiling.
- Marketing And Bulk Promotions: These can lead consumers to purchase unnecessary goods that are ultimately not eaten once in the home.
- Portions: Large and inflexible portions lead to diners not eating everything on their plate.
- Expansive Menu Options: Extended menus complicate inventory management and require more ingredients to be kept on hand. All-you-can-eat offerings have particularly high waste.
- Sales Fluctuations: Bad weather and unpredictable factors make inventory planning difficult.
- Kitchen Practices: Overproduction, trim waste, mishandling, and poor inventory management. High staff turnover exacerbates these problems.
- Rigid Management: Managers of chain restaurants are often not allowed to adjust for local demand and creative inventory use. Fast food chains often have strict guidelines about how long items can sit after preparation before they must be discarded.
- School Lunch Restrictions: Schools may not implement practices that encourage lunch to be eaten, such as providing adequate or well-timed lunch periods and allowing students to choose components of meals.
- Lack of Awareness and Information: Many consumers are not aware of how much food they waste or its implications. Some also lack information or skills to properly store and “use up” food.
- Confusion Over Date Labels: Multiple dates, inconsistent usage, and lack of education around date label meanings cause consumers to discard food prematurely.
- Poor Storage: Food spoils in homes due to suboptimal storage, poor visibility in refrigerators, partially used ingredients, and misjudged food needs.
- Poor Planning: Consumers may overbuy because they fail to plan meals, fail to use a shopping list, inaccurately estimate what is needed for meal preparation, or decide on impromptu restaurant meals.
- Impulse and Bulk Purchases: Promotions encouraging unusual or bulk purchases result in consumers buying foods outside their typical needs, and these foods may not be consumed.
- Overproduction: Preparing more food than needed can lead to waste unless leftovers are saved and consumed.
Source: Adapted from Gunders D. (2017).
- Discussion #1: Date labeling and food waste
A major driver of food waste is inconsistent, unclear, or prohibitive date labels that cause confusion among consumers and retailers, which limit the ability of them to donate or consume food. This increases the likelihood that safe, surplus food will go to waste.
- Date labels are the dates found on food packaging with phrases such as “sell by,” “expires on,” “use by,” “best before,” or “best by.” Manufacturers use date labels to indicate what they consider the time for peak food quality of their product. Food safety risks only increase over time for limited types of foods, which may vary across cultures based on production processes.
- Research found that businesses and consumers, often lacking clarifying guidance on their country’s date labeling schemes, mistakenly believe date labels are safety indicators.
- In the European Union, consumer confusion over date labeling creates roughly 10% of annual food waste (European Commission, 2018).
- In the United States, 37% of American consumers always throw away food close to or past the date on its label, and 84% throw such food away at least occasionally (Leib et al., 2016).
In the United States and other countries or common economic regions that do not have a standardized date labeling scheme, date label policy can vary and confuse consumers and manufacturers alike. Lack of uniform date label policy causes a regulatory void that may be filled in various ways, including by local-level policies, government guidance, and voluntary standards implemented by some food businesses. This exacerbates consumer confusion and leads to food waste that could be avoided with national standards. Twenty US states also prohibit or restrict the sale or donation of past-date foods, regardless of whether the dates indicate quality or safety (Beckmann et al., 2021).
Please watch the video below for more details.
Now, let's reflect your own grocery shopping experience and answer the following questions.
Question 1: How often do you check the date labels when doing grocery shopping? What do the terms "Best by" "Use by" and "Sell by" mean to you?
Question 2: How often do you throw away food because it is close to or past the date that appears on the package?
Question 3: Will you eat food that pass the "use by" date? Why or why not?
Question 4: How do you think the impacts of date labeling on food waste? How can we tackle this issue and reduce food waste? Please share your answers to the above questions in this discussion board. Please also reply to other classmates' posts.
European Commission (2018). Date marking and food waste, Retrieved from European Commission.
Emily Broad Leib et al. (2016). Consumer Perceptions of Date Labels: National Survey, FLPC, Nat’l Consumers Inst., & Johns Hopkins Ct. for Livable
Future 1–2. Retrieved from Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation [pdf].
Joseph S. Beckmann et al. (2021). Promoting food donation: Date labeling law and policy. Retrieved from The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas [pdf].
- 1.6 Academic Readings on Food Waste Research
Please choose two of the following articles to read and write up a reflection about what you learn from the articles. What findings of the article are most impressive to you?
Neff RA, Spiker ML, Truant PL (2015) Wasted Food: U.S. Consumers' Reported Awareness, Attitudes, and Behaviors. PLOS ONE 10(6): e0127881. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127881 [Download here] [pdf]
Thyberg, K. L., & Tonjes, D. J. (2016). Drivers of food waste and their implications for sustainable policy development. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 106, 110-123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2015.11.016 [Download here] [pdf]
Stancu, V., Haugaard, P., & Lähteenmäki, L. (2016). Determinants of consumer food waste behaviour: Two routes to food waste. Appetite, 96, 7-17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2015.08.025 [Download here] [pdf]
Reynolds, C., Goucher, L., Quested, T., Bromley, S., Gillick, S., Wells, V. K., ... & Jackson, P. (2019). Consumption-stage food waste reduction interventions–What works and how to design better interventions. Food policy, 83, 7-27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2019.01.009 [Download here] [pdf]
Kavanaugh, M., & Quinlan, J. J. (2020). Consumer knowledge and behaviors regarding food date labels and food waste. Food Control, 115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2020.107285 [Download here] [pdf]
Part 2: What Can We Do to Reduce Food Waste?
2.1 Understanding the Food Recovery Hierarchy
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Food Recovery Hierarchy to help those in the food system prioritize different methods for managing surplus food. Items at the top are higher priority and have the largest socioeconomic benefit, while the items at the bottom are not preferable. It’s best practice to start at the top of the pyramid and make every effort in one section before moving to the next. For example, you should always find how to reduce surplus food generated at the source first. The order is shown in the figure below.
The best way to recover food is to not have surplus food in the first place. Just think about how much money and effort is put into food that makes it all the way through the supply chain and then is just thrown away because there is not a demand for it or it is not high enough quality for a consumer. There are numerous ways to reduce food waste at the source. Having more accurate inventory management and demand planning are two key ways this is accomplished.
Feed Hungry People
The next best thing to do is to feed hungry people. Million of people are food insecure and don’t know when their next meal will be. Do not send dumpsters full of food to the landfill or to be converted to energy when these people are in need. It has never been easier to donate to a non-profit, and you can rest assured knowing that there are good samaritan laws in place to legally protect your organization from liabilities. You should search on Google for the best non-profits near you to donate to. There are also programs, such as MealConnect, that make this easy.
Feeding animals is the next highest on the list. Why? Well for starters, they can eat food that has gone past human consumption ability. Also, feeding animals is a huge hit to the environment. Cows can eat up to 120 pounds of wet feed a day alone! Stomachs of cows and other livestock are much more durable than those in humans and they are able to process rotten produce much better than us. So when donating to people is out of the question, the millions of farm animals around the world will gladly accept your food.
Industrial use is something that has garnered a lot of interest lately and has a nice appeal to it. Using crops that would be trash and converting it to energy or fuel? Sounds like a great concept. While technology is improving, you may be curious as to why it is still below feeding humans and animals in the food recovery hierarchy. This is because all of the food going into these processes, such as anaerobic digestion, have costs for gallons of water, fertilizer, labor, transportation, sorting, and processing already included. There are much cheaper ways of generating energy than this.
If you have gotten past the point where donating to humans is an option and donating to animals for feed is out of the question, this is certainly the next best option. But again, more emphasis should be placed on reducing the amount of food waste in the first place so you don’t have to make the decision this far down. Food rotting in a landfill and in an anaerobic digestion facility are not too far apart.
Composting and adding to the landfill are similar to anaerobic digestion and energy recovery in that the food is still rotting away and emitting greenhouse gases. However, it is still more ideal than sending food off to a landfill because the nutrients can be repurposed for growing more crops. It can be done almost anywhere and is great for food scraps.
Adding food to the landfill is the worst-case scenario. Leaving food to rot and letting go of all of the energy that was put into making it is not a good thing. The methane that is produced is at least 20x more potent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and there is no benefit to any living thing to having it sit in a landfill.
Please watch the following video for more details.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2021). Food Recovery Hierarchy. Retrieved from United States Environmental Protection Agency.
One Third (2021). Understanding the Food Recovery Hierarchy. Retrieved from One Third Food Waste Prevention.
- 2.2 Food Waste Related Policies
Public policy can offer opportunities to accelerate large-scale food waste reduction. On September 16, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the U.S. 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction goal, the first-ever domestic goal to reduce food loss and waste. The goal seeks to cut food loss and waste in half by the year 2030. In the U.S., policy related to food waste exists at the federal, state, and municipal levels, though the characteristics of these policies and the extent to which they promote or impede food waste reduction vary significantly. At the federal level, there are three important policies tackling the food waste issue: Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, Federal Tax Incentives Policy, and Federal Animal Feed Policy.
Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act
In 1996, Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act [pdf], which provides a federal floor of civil and criminal liability protection for food donors and the nonprofit organizations that receive and distribute food donations to those in need. It provides protection to a broad range of donors, including individuals, businesses, government entities, food recovery organizations, and gleaners.
Federal Tax Incentives Policy
Tax incentives make food donation more cost effective and economically beneficial. The federal government has recognized the importance of food donation and provides tax deductions for food donations to incentivize businesses to donate food. As of December 2015, the PATH Act [pdf] was passed to allow all businesses — including C-corporations, S-corporations, limited liability corporations (LLCs), partnerships, and sole proprietorships — are eligible for an enhanced tax deduction for food donations that meet certain eligibility criteria. If they do not meet the criteria, food donations can still qualify for a general tax deduction in the amount of the food’s basis value.
Federal Animal Feed Policy
The use of food waste as animal feed has been commonplace for centuries. This practice declined in the 1980s, when state and federal laws tried to limit the feeding of food waste to animals following several disease outbreaks linked to animal products in livestock feed. Recently, there has been renewed interest in the practice of feeding safe, properly treated food waste to animals. The federal government regulates the use of food scraps in animal feed by setting requirements which largely concern the type of animals that may be fed food scraps and the kind of food scraps that may be fed to them. The federal regulations function as a floor that allows state regulations to go beyond them. More details are available on ReFED.
Food Date Labeling Act of 2019
In addition, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Chellie Pingree introduced companion bills in the Senate and the House to standardize food date labels across the United States in May 2016. In July 2019, Representative Pingree and Representative Dan Newhouse Introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2019 (H.R. 3981 ), which builds on the 2016 bills and proposes establishing standardized quality and discard dates. The bill proposed using “BEST If Used By” to communicate that the quality of the food product may begin to deteriorate after the date. “USE By” is recommended for indicating the end of the estimated period of shelf life, after which the product should not be consumed. Under the bill, food manufacturers will decide which food products carry a quality date or a discard date. However, the bill did not receive a vote in a previous session of Congress. Therefore, with the exception of infant formula, there are still no standardized federal legislations for date labels yet.
For more details, please watch the video below and use the food waste policy finder tool to look up more information.
U.S. Food Waste Policy Finder. https://policyfinder.refed.org/
The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas (2021). Promoting food donation: Tax law and policy. Retrieved from The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas [pdf]
GovTrack.us. (2021). H.R. 3981 — 116th Congress: Food Date Labeling Act of 2019. Retrieved from GovTrack.us
- Discussion #2: Food Waste Policy Finder
ReFED and the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic collaborated to develop the Food Waste Policy Finder in order to provide an overview of current federal and state policies related to food waste.
In this discussion, please use the policy finder tool (ReFED) to examine the food waste policies in California and other states. You can compare California with another state that you would like to examine, then look up the food waste policies of both states. Please identify the differences and similarities of their food waste policies and share your findings in this discussion.
- 2.3 Making Changes at the Individual Level
Planning, prepping, and storing food can help your household waste less food. Below are some tips provided by the U.S. EPA to help you do just that:
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.
- Keep a running list of meals and their ingredients that your household already enjoys. That way, you can easily choose, shop for and prepare meals.
- Make your shopping list based on how many meals you’ll eat at home. Will you eat out this week? How often?
- Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping and buy only the things needed for those meals.
- Include quantities on your shopping list noting how many meals you’ll make with each item to avoid overbuying. For example: salad greens - enough for two lunches.
- Look in your refrigerator and cupboards first to avoid buying food you already have, make a list each week of what needs to be used up and plan upcoming meals around it.
- Buy only what you need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.
It is easy to overbuy or forget about fresh fruits and vegetables. Store fruits and vegetables for maximum freshness; they’ll taste better and last longer, helping you to eat more of them.
- Find out how to store fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer inside or outside your refrigerator.
- Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables - especially abundant seasonal produce.
- Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, making other nearby produce spoil faster. Store bananas, apples, and tomatoes by themselves, and store fruits and vegetables in different bins.
- Wait to wash berries until you want to eat them to prevent mold.
- If you like to eat fruit at room temperature, but it should be stored in the refrigerator for maximum freshness, take what you’ll eat for the day out of the refrigerator in the morning.
Prepare perishable foods soon after shopping. It will be easier to whip up meals or snacks later in the week, saving time, effort, and money.
- When you get home from the store, take the time to wash, dry, chop, dice, slice, and place your fresh food items in clear storage containers for snacks and easy cooking.
- Befriend your freezer and visit it often. For example,
1) Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit, or meat that you know you won’t be able to eat in time.
2) Cut your time in the kitchen by preparing and freezing meals ahead of time.
3) Prepare and cook perishable items, then freeze them for use throughout the month.
4) For example, bake and freeze chicken breasts or fry and freeze taco meat.
Be mindful of old ingredients and leftovers you need to use up. You’ll waste less and may even find a new favorite dish.
- Shop in your refrigerator first! Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
- Have produce that’s past its prime? It may still be fine for cooking. Think soups, casseroles, stir fries, sauces, baked goods, pancakes or smoothies.
- If safe and healthy, use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons, beet tops can be sautéed for a delicious side dish, and vegetable scraps can be made into stock.
- Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by,” and expiration dates.
- Are you likely to have leftovers from any of your meals? Plan an “eat the leftovers” night each week.
- Casseroles, stir-fries, frittatas, soups, and smoothies are great ways to use leftovers too. Search for websites that provide suggestions for using leftover ingredients.
- At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for or to make your next meal.
- At all-you-can-eat buffets, take only what you can eat.
U.S. EPA (2021). Reducing Wasted Food At Home. Retrieved from United States Environmental Protection Agency
Gunders, D. (2017). Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from Natural Resources Defense Council [pdf].
- Are you a Waster? Take the Quiz
1. Did you eat leftovers in the last two weeks?
2. Would you buy a banana with brown spots?
3. You can’t finish a meal at a restaurant. What do you do?
- Leave it on the plate
- Ask for a doggy bag
- Force someone else at my table to finish it
4. You find a can of soup in the pantry that is 2 months passed its best before date. What do you do?
- Eat it
- Throw it out
- Feed it to the dog
- Compost it
5. Do you compost your food scraps?
6. What temperature is your fridge?
- <1 Degree Celsius
- 1-5 Degree Celsius
- >5 Degree Celsius
- I don't know
7. How do you serve dinner at your house? (Family Style where everyone serves their own plates from central pots/dishes OR Plated where the host puts the food on each plate)
- Family Style
8. Do you know somewhere in your neighbourhood where you can buy food that has been marked down (eg. a shelf with discounted ripe produce or damaged packages)?
- Yes, and I buy that imperfect food all the time
- Yes, but I wouldn't buy it
9. Does the grocery store you shop most at have a food recovery program (where they donate excess food)?
- I don't know
- Discussion #3: Just Eat It Documentary
"Just Eat It" is an award-winning documentary film about food waste and food rescue by Peg Leg Films in partnership with British Columbia's Knowledge Network. The 74-minute film is organized into five thematic chapters: Perfection, Mindset, Consequence, Recovery and Change. Please watch the full movie below and discuss the following questions.
1. How can we reduce the amount of food waste in our own homes? List three solutions from the film.
2. Are aesthetics important to you when you buy and eat produce? Do you ever eat fruit or vegetables with blemishes or bruises on them? Would it bother you if a banana had a different curvature or if a zucchini had a slight bulge in the middle of its body?
3. Why have our values changed when you compare them to our parents or grandparents? How do cultural norms change?
- 2.4 How can you help your local community?
There are many ways to get involved with food security in our community. From donating time or money to helping divert fresh food from landfills, you can find an option that suits your own situation and local community guidelines. For example, food pantries, food banks and food rescue programs are available across the country to collect food and redistribute it to those in need. Food banks are community-based, professional organizations that collect food from a variety of sources and save the food in warehouses. The food bank then distributes the food to hungry families and individuals through a variety of emergency food assistance agencies, such as soup kitchens, youth or senior centers, shelters and pantries. Most food banks tend to collect nonperishable foods such as canned goods because they can be stored for a longer time. You can take actions to support the food banks in the following ways:
1. Donate money
Because most food banks rely on donations to feed the hungry, giving money can be a huge help. Food banks buy food at wholesale, bulk, or other discounted rates, meaning that they can get a large amount of food for a small amount of money. Some food banks also have matching deals with food manufacturers, so the manufacturer donates money or food for certain purchases that the food bank makes. And when a food bank has a plethora of rice and beans but not enough fruit or vegetables, money you donate can help them fill in the gaps of whatever food they’re missing.
2. Donate food
Call your local food pantry or check out their website for information on what, where, and when to make food donations. Think shelf-stable dried and canned goods—pantry staples like beans, rice, pasta, soup, peanut butter, cereal—that you buy at the store or have sitting in your cupboards for donation.
3. Volunteer your time
Committing a few hours a month to volunteer at your local food bank can be a huge boon to an organization that’s probably understaffed and working with a limited budget. Food banks need volunteers to sort donations, stock shelves, prepare meals, serve food, and deliver care packages. Your local food bank may also need volunteers to do bookkeeping or online work, so be sure to inquire about their additional needs if you have any specialty skills that you think might be of service.
4. Use social media to share information
You can also support food banks at the click of a button. Follow your local food bank on social media. Like their posts, comment and share them. For example, you can research what resources are available and share that information with your local network. Because of the hidden nature of hunger, you might not know if a friend or neighbor is struggling with food insecurity. And, due to the pandemic, a lot of people are dealing with food insecurity for the first time and don’t know where to go for help. Sharing out resources in a supportive, non-judgmental way can make a world of difference.
The following video is an example of how the food banks help our community and what you can do to help them.
References: Google Find Food Support. Find Food Support with Google.
U.S. EPA (2021). Reduce Wasted Food By Feeding Hungry People. Retrieved from United States Environmental Protection Agency
- Community Engagement Experience for Food Security
Search for the closest food bank using Google Find Food Support Tool, which features a Google Maps locator tool to help you find the nearest food bank, food pantry or school lunch program pickup site in your community.
- Please choose a food bank or food pantry that is close to you and visit its website to learn more information about how you can help. Please contact the organization to sign up for a volunteer opportunity to participate in their activities of fighting hunger.
- After completing your volunteer tasks, please write up a reflection essay to share what you learn from the experience. How do the experience impact you regarding food waste reduction?
- Assignment #2: Food Waste Reduction Action Plan
Now, let's take a look at the food waste diary that you created this week for Assignment #1. What types of food items do you most frequently throw out? Would any of the tips in the Part 2 of this module have helped you save any of it? Think about the food waste hierarchy (2.1 Understanding the Food Recovery Hierarchy) you just learned about. Could you have done anything different with any of your waste? How might better planning have helped prevent it in the first place?
Please use this action plan template [Download Here] [pdf] to develop three actions you’d like to take to reduce your food waste, along with the information or tools you need in order to make them happen. Make sure you also make a note of the obstacles that need to be overcome to make them successful. Finally, what’s your target timescale?
The SMART acronym might be helpful to bear in mind:
S - Specific - what is it exactly that you want to achieve?
M - Measurable - how will you know when you’ve achieved it?
A - Achievable - is it possible? Don’t set yourself up to fail.
R - Relevant - will this action really help you to reduce food waste?
T - Time-bound - can you complete it within the required time frame?
Take some time to develop your action plan today. Thank you!
- 2.5 Additional Learning Resources
Wasted! The Story of Food Waste is a documentary featuring top chefs and a range of food industry experts gives an in depth look into the root of the problem, what we really need to do to change it and the true impact each one of us can have.
Sustainable is a vital investigation of the economic and environmental instability of America’s food system, from the agricultural issues we face — soil loss, water depletion, climate change, pesticide use — to the community of leaders who are determined to fix it.
A Place at the Table is a documentary that investigates incidents of hunger experienced by millions of Americans, and proposed solutions to the problem.
Reynolds, C., Soma, T., Spring, C., & Lazell, J. (Eds.). (2020). Routledge handbook of food waste. Routledge.
Gunders, D. (2015). Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money By Wasting Less Food. Chronicle Books.
Stuart, T. (2009). Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal. WW Norton & Company.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (https://www.fao.org/home/en)
United Nations World Food Programme (https://www.wfp.org/ )
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food)
Feeding America (https://www.feedingamerica.org/)
Google Find Food Support (https://findfoodsupport.withgoogle.com/)
Further with Food (https://furtherwithfood.org/resources/)