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Taking a Bite out of Food Wastage

By Gina Malczewski

One of the biggest challenges the world faces is feeding its people. One of every nine of us goes to bed hungry every night now, and this problem will get worse as the global population gets bigger. By 2050, we will need to grow 1.6 times the amount of food grown today.

But we can do something about this! Food wastage is the total amount of food that gets lost or goes bad before we get it. It also includes food wasted when we throw leftovers away, or let food spoil. Every year, wastage accounts for about one-third of all the food grown around the world, and this translates into some really big losses: 75 million dollars lost, 66 trillion gallons of water “down the drain,” and 3.7 billion tons of unnecessary greenhouse gases added to the air. Yikes!

Reducing food wastage starts with picking crops at the right time, and getting them to their final destinations efficiently. Grocery stores can help by selling “imperfect” food at a lower price rather than throwing it away, or donating what they can’t sell.

Chemists and other scientists are working on processes and technology for reducing food waste. By adding small living things (called microbes), we can convert some food waste to basic chemical building blocks like proteins, fats, and sugars. These can be turned into other products like carpeting, furniture, and clothing. Food waste can also be used to make bio-based fuels, which can reduce our transportation footprint.

And each of us can help, too — by shopping for just what we need, storing it correctly, and using what we buy. We need to worry less about “use-by” dates — these are actually the last dates when food is at its best. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says most foods are safe to eat even after the use-by date, as long as they don’t smell or look funny. What we can’t eat or donate should be fed to animals or put into compost piles.

And there’s more you can do! Here are some ideas:

  • Grow some of your food in your own garden
  • Donate any extra food from your garden to the local food pantry
  • Eat plant-based diets, which have smaller footprints than eating meat or fish
  • Save, label, and date your leftovers … and use them!
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer, with the oldest in front
  • Eat older things first
  • Adjust what you buy based on what gets eaten

Everyone should work on eating well, so that we can all win the war on wastage!

Gina Malczewski, Ph.D. is a retired biochemist who worked at Dow Corning Corporation in Midland, Michigan.