Grocery stores and other retail food sellers are losing as much as $15 billion a year in unsold fruits and vegetables alone, with about half of the U.S. supply going uneaten, according to an analysis on food waste by the National Resources Defense Council.
The NRDC report, Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, found inefficiencies and losses in the U.S. food system through the supply chain. Food is lost on farms; during processing, distribution and storage; in retail stores and food service operations; and in households. At every stage, there are a variety of reasons for the losses, the NRDC said.
Americans are throwing away 40 percent of food in the U.S., the equivalent of $165 billion in uneaten food each year, according to the NRDC analysis. Food waste has jumped 50 percent since the 1970s and is now the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.
The causes of losses in the U.S. food system are complex, but some of the most notable problem areas are at the retail level, the NRDC said. Most of the loss in retail operations is in perishables, such as baked goods, produce, meat, seafood and increasingly, ready-made foods. The losses are compounded by the retail model, which views waste as a part of doing business, the NRDC said.
The report made a number of recommendations for businesses to reduce food waste at the farm, processing and retail levels. For example, the NRDC suggests retailers stop the practice of overstocking their produce displays, which inherently leads to food spoilage; and that pre-cutting food such as cheese or meat at the processing stage may be more efficient, in terms of quantity lost and potential use of scrap by-products, than allowing customers to trim their own food.
The NRDC also urges businesses to conduct regular food waste audits, salvage food for secondary markets, and adopt online solutions and new technology that reduce losses. For example, LeanPath software weighs and tracks discarded food in restaurant kitchens, while websites such as Ample Harvest help connect those with surplus food to those in need, and smartphone applications can help consumers know how long products have been in the refrigerator.
Companies are also finding new ways to extend product life, reduce shrink from transport, and detect product state, the NRDC said.