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USDA Activities

In addition to spearheading the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA is initiating a number of activities to help reduce, recover, and recycle food waste in the United States. 

Reduce Food Waste in School Meals Programs

In 2002, USDA reported that 12 percent of the calories served to students in the National School Lunch Program were lost because of plate waste (based on 1991-92 data).  USDA is committed to taking a number of steps to reduce this waste and provide better information on the extent and source of the problem:

  • Fund new research on the amount of plate waste in schools with respect to the type of foods wasted and student and school characteristics.
  • Fund new research on the school food environment to identify innovative actions to reduce plate waste, such as the timing and duration of lunch periods, the number of serving lines, and the availability of grab-and-go options.
  • Issue updated guidance materials and provide technical assistance to further encourage “offer versus serve” and family-style service at school meals (two techniques proven to reduce plate waste).
  • Provide training, resources and support to school food service personnel to reduce in-kitchen food loss, improve the quality and acceptability of foods served and donation of wholesome leftover foods where feasible. 

Educate Consumers on Reducing, Recovering, and Recycling Food Waste

USDA estimates that almost 30 percent of the available food supply was lost from human consumption at the retail and consumer levels in 2010.  Some of this consumer-level loss arises from consumers or retailers throwing away wholesome food because of confusion about how to safely store it or about the meaning of dates stamped on the label.  USDA, through the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), educates consumers about the importance of safe food storage as a means of reducing the risks of acquiring a foodborne illness.  USDA will undertake a number of outreach activities to further educate consumers about safe food storage, package dating, and the benefits of and steps to successfully reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste:

  • Update the safe-storage and date-labeling information on the FSIS website (FSIS’s food safety fact sheets and “Ask Karen” website were viewed close to 10 million times in 2012).
  • Update and expand the 10-year-old online FoodKeeper Resource, which provides food storage information on a wide range of products.
  • Develop, pilot test, and post (in partnership with the Food Marketing Institute and Cornell University) a FoodKeeper App and widget to provide consumers with another user-friendly option to access good searchable information on food storage, proper storage temperatures, food product dating, and expiration dates. 
  • Create a nationwide consumer education campaign in English and Spanish on safe food storage and food waste for dissemination through social media outlets such as Twitter, podcasts, and YouTube videos.
  • USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will issue a call through the competitive grant programs of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative for the formation of a Food Waste eXtension Community of Practice to collect and disseminate research on best practices to reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste.
  • Purchase a demo composter for food waste for the garden at headquarters and provide demonstrations as part of the educational tours of the garden. 

Recover or Recycle Food Removed from Commerce

As the result of safety inspections or marketing agreements, wholesome food that is fit for human consumption may be removed from commerce. USDA is committed to working with industry to increase the recovery or recycling of this food with a number of new initiatives:

  • FSIS will streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products by making changes to allow establishments to donate such product without temporary label approval provided that the bills of lading for the product include certain information for Agency verification activities.  The specific conditions for allowing donations will be clearly identified in an upcoming FSIS Notice, followed by additional guidance to FSIS field personnel.  (In FYs 2010-2012, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) detained over 3 million pounds of misbranded product.)
  • FSIS’s Western Laboratory receives over 4,000 meat samples for chemistry analysis each year as part of the FSIS national sampling program to ensure meat products are safe.  The size of each sample is mandated to ensure that the sampling protocol is valid.  However, only a small portion of each sample is actually analyzed by the laboratory.  The remaining sample (called a reserve sample) is frozen and stored at the laboratory in case further analysis is required.  Once per month, the reserve samples that are no longer needed—400 to 600 pounds per month—are discarded with the regular solid waste.  The Western Laboratory will initiate a pilot program to compost this meat.
  • Approximately 48,091,376 lbs. per year (3%) of the imported fresh produce that is subject to inspection under Section 8e of the Agricultural Agreement Marketing Act is turned back or destroyed every year because it does not meet the same or comparable federal marketing order standards as the domestic product.  USDA will work to reduce food loss, and to facilitate imported food donations to charities, by connecting importers interested in donating eligible produce with local charities registered to receive such produce, as permissible under Section 8e regulations.
  • Reduce food waste by working with the California Desert Grape Administrative Committee to specify alternative exempted outlets for fresh table grapes that are not inspected or that do not meet certain federal marketing order requirements.  (The marketing order administered by the California Desert Grape Administrative Committee is the only marketing order that does not already specify exempted outlets.) 

Estimate and Model Food Loss

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) calculates and maintains the U.S. Food Availability data system, including the Loss Adjusted Food Availability (LAFA) data series.  This data series was primarily designed to estimate daily per capita calorie availability and food-pattern equivalents of the five major food groups plus the amounts of added sugars and sweeteners and added fats and oils.  These data include the widely cited estimates of food loss at the retail and consumer levels in the United States.  USDA will update these data and investigate the drivers of food loss with two research initiatives:

  • Fund a study to update loss estimates for fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood at the retail level in the United States.
  • Develop a consistent and globally applicable conceptual model for estimating post-harvest food losses.

Conduct Research on New Technologies for Reducing Food Waste

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service will conduct research on new technologies for reducing spoilage of fresh foods and the development of new products from waste materials at food processing facilities:

  • In collaboration with an industry partner, develop fruit- and vegetable-based powder coatings to inhibit spoilage of fresh-cut produce.
  • Develop in-package plasma sterilization system to lengthen shelf life of fresh poultry meat.
  • Develop new design and operational procedures for retail display cases so as to maximize shelf life of displayed fresh and fresh-cut produce.
  • Investigate genetic/breeding options for inhibiting sprouting of potatoes during storage.
  • Investigate use of 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), refrigeration, and alternative packaging to delay ripening of strawberries, blueberries and tomatoes during shipping and storage.
  • Develop, in collaboration with industry partner, active packaging to extend fruit and fresh-cut produce shelf life.
  • Develop, in collaboration with industry partner, technology to utilize olive-mill waste-water in body-care or beverage products.
  • Develop, in collaboration with the University of California-Davis, processes to produce new oils and dietary-fiber products from fruit and vegetable seed byproducts.
  • Develop grape seed flour, a byproduct of wine making, as a healthy food ingredient that helps to lower the risks of heart disease and obesity. 
  • Develop 2-stage anaerobic digestion of potato-processing waste (mostly peels) to produce a substitute for peat moss, an imported non-renewable matrix for potting and garden soils.
  •  Develop biodegradable biopolymers from polylactic acid and sugar beet pulp, a waste product from sugar beet processing.

Reduce and Recycle Food Waste at USDA Headquarters

Currently, USDA composts 2,400 pounds of food waste per week from the USDA headquarters in Washington, DC.  USDA will work to increase this to at least 2,520 pounds per week by the end of 2014 – for a total of 131,040 pounds composted food waste per year out of this single cafeteria complex.   USDA will work to achieve this goal and provide its workforce with expanded recycling opportunities and education on reducing and recycling food waste through a number of activities: 

  • Install additional compost receptacles for coffee grounds.
  • Create educational material including posters, articles and a video to encourage the use of recycling bins, home composting, and the reduction of food waste.