Forty percent of food in the U.S. is wasted. That translates to 133 billions pounds wasted. Or, in money terms, uneaten food costs $161 billion.
If we could recover 15 percent of this wasted food and give it to families in need, the number of food-insecure Americans would be cut in half. That, to me, is the most startling of all those stats.
Food waste is an incredibly complex issue. It extends far beyond what we forget to eat in our refrigerators. In fact, the majority of food waste happens outside of homes.
In an effort to curb the amount of food waste in the U.S., Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine has introduced the Food Recovery Act. Given that reading through legislative bills is not everyone’s favorite hobby, I’ve gone ahead and summarized a few significant portions of the bill below.
Improving Food Waste on Farms
Because there will always be some food that’s ruined or spoiled during the growing and harvesting process, this act puts greater pressure on ensuring the food makes its way to anaerobic digesters so it can be turned into fertilizer and bio-gas.
This act will also lead to a study on “new technologies to increase the period during which an agricultural product may be stored before the agricultural product is considered adulterated under State or Federal law.” This study would look at quantifying the exact amount of food that’s not harvested and sent to market to give Congress a better understanding of the food waste issue.
Recovering Food from Retailers and Restaurants
One change that I’m happy to see in the Food Recovery Act concerns the donation of food to needy individuals. Many restaurants and retailers don’t donate wholesome food (aka food that’s still good but getting old) because they’re worried they could get sued if a person gets sick from it. This bill removes that liability.
If a retailer or restaurant donates wholesome food to a needy individual/organization, they are not subject to criminal or civil liability. This simple change could lead to many more retailers and restaurants donating food, which would absolutely reduce our country’s food waste. Note that this doesn’t remove liability if spoiled or rotten food is knowingly donated to needy organizations.
Reducing Household Food Waste
I’ve always felt some confusion on “best by” dates. Is it still safe to eat after the date? For how long after the date is it still safe? (The answers are “yes” and “it depends,” in case you were wondering.) These best-by dates are voluntary and are intended to simply communicate when the quality of the food will begin to degrade.
The Food Recovery Act would make a few changes to the dates printed on “ready-to-eat” products to better convey when they are no longer safe to eat. Ready-to-eat products are those that you can eat with minimal preparation. This means eggs, meat, poultry, food normally eaten in its raw state, and any other food, including processed foods, that will be eaten without further processing (granola bars, cereal, etc.).
These products would continue to include a best-by date, but would also add a safety date. The safety date represents “the end of the estimated period of shelf life under any stated storage conditions, after which the product may pose a health safety risk.” In other words, the date after which you should no longer eat the product. Personally, having both of these dates would be immensely helpful in determining if something is safe to eat.
There are a number of other changes this bill would enact; I’ve simply covered a few of the most significant ones. This bill has only been introduced and still has a long way to go before it will be up for vote in the House. You can learn more about the bill here, and if your representative is a member of one of the many committees this bill touches, I invite you to give him or her a call and express your support of this bill.
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock
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