USDA is doing its part to help make preventing food waste the first-best option for farmers, businesses, organizations, and consumers. A large number of USDA programs contribute to this objective, ranging from those supporting market and distributional efficiencies to those educating consumers about safe food storage. Selected new and ongoing activities directly contributing to the reduction of food loss and waste are listed below.
Consumer education about food loss and waste
Consumers account for 21 percent of food loss and waste in the United States. To help inform them about food waste, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has developed a new infographic, Let’s Talk Trash, with information on food loss and waste facts and reduction tips. Moreover, a new section on ChooseMyPlate.gov will educate consumers about reducing food waste to help stretch household budgets. The potential audience for this outreach is large. Since the launch of MyPlate in 2011, ChooseMyPlate.gov has become a popular federal resource for consumers seeking information on nutrition and health. The number of visitors has grown from 6.5 million in 2011 to 50.6 million in August 2015 and the site received more than 288 million page views. Facts about food waste and tips to help consumers reduce will be a valuable addition to ChooseMyPlate.gov as USDA strives to motivate food waste reduction.
Consumer education about food storage
Some 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. As part of its food waste reduction outreach, USDA recently updated the safe-storage and date-labeling information on the FSIS website and updated and expanded online FoodKeeper Resource. In spring 2015, USDA also launched (in partnership with the Food Marketing Institute and Cornell University) a FoodKeeper App to provide consumers with easy access to clear, scientific information on food storage, proper storage temperatures, food product dating, and expiration dates. (The app is available on FoodSafety.gov for those that do not have access to smart phones or tablets. There users can get all the same storage guidance on their desktop or laptop machines.) FSIS is working to update and launching a 2.0 version of the FoodKeeper app.
On-farm storage can help reduce post-harvest loss by providing farmers with effective, safe and readily accessible storage for crops. In August, 2015, USDA expanded the Farm Storage Facility Loan program to provide producers of milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, meat, eggs, seafood, flowers, rye, maple sap and hops low-cost loans for on-farm storage facilities. These newly eligible commodities join corn, sorghum, rice, soybeans, oats, peanuts, wheat, barley, pulse crops, hay, honey, fruit, vegetables, nuts and renewable biomass already in the program. The loans are designed to assist a diverse range of farming operations, including small and mid-sized businesses, new farmers, operations supplying local food and farmers markets, non-traditional farm products, and underserved producers. Since 2000, the Farm Storage Facility Loan program has disbursed $2 billion in loans to farmers, facilitating the purchase of storage capacity sufficient for approximately 1 billion bushels of grain.
Support for rural counties
Through a Rural Utilities Service grant, USDA is funding the Rural Iowa Food Waste Reduction Project. This project will assist businesses in reducing food waste generation rates. Assistance will include on-site visits to determine food waste generation baselines; strategies for reducing food waste; siting for food waste capture systems; training in reduction strategies; and an exploration of local options for composting, biodigesting, donation of edible food, or commercial companies that offer organic waste diversion services. Through a Rural Utilities Service grant, USDA is also funding and the Food Waste Composting Education Program for Iowa Landfills. This program will promote food waste composting in rural counties, targeting both landfills and the general public through on-site technical training and regulatory assistance related to composting food waste. In addition, the project has created fact sheets, guides, regulatory summaries and videos. The main goal of the project is to reduce the amount of food waste discarded in Iowa landfills by assisting landfills and the general public in expanding or implementing composting operations.The goal of the food waste reduction project is to reduce the annual amount of food waste by a modest 10%. Implemented across the state of Iowa, this would result in a potential annual food waste reduction of 19,388 tons (approx. 40 million pounds).
Streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products
Recognizing that misbranded product is often safe and wholesome, USDA streamlined procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products by allowing 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. (Notice 68-13 Verifying Donation of Misbranded and Economically Adulterated Meat and Poultry Products). Since the new regulations were enacted, new donations are starting to flow, including, for example, 84,310 pounds of misbranded sausage and thousands of pounds of pizza, soups and other meat products.
Connected fresh produce importers with charitable institutions
USDA has worked to help increase donations of wholesome fresh imported produce that is subject to destruction or rejection because it does not meet the same or comparable federal marketing order standards as the domestic product. USDA compiled a list of charitable organizations (with permission from the organizations) and posted and shared the list of exempted outlets with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Fruit and Vegetable Program Specialty Crop Inspection Division employees at major ports. Employees were requested to provide this information to importers who have fresh produce that is not inspected or does not meet certain marketing order requirements. AMS’s outreach is starting to facilitate donations. In early 2015, for example, importers donated 604,000 pounds of produce to the Houston Food Bank, 380,780 pounds to Feeding America San Diego (and Foodbank of Southern California), and 192,174 pounds to the Food bank of Rio Grande Valley and Jesus El Pan de Vida.
Stimulate research and knowledge sharing about food loss and waste
Through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture competitively funded a first of its kind conference on food loss and waste in the US. The conference, titled “The Last Food Mile: A Conference on Food Loss and Food Waste in the United States,” intended to define the state of knowledge, understand the factors affecting the behavior, identify critical control points, and build a network of research and intervention strategies to address the issue. The conference was held on December 8-9, 2014 at the University of Pennsylvania with twenty-five invited speakers and four panels that included industry initiatives, case studies, consumer level wastage; and waste reduction, recovery, and recycling, and behavior change. Impacts include: 1) the formation of a knowledge network to exchange ideas, learn from each other, and engage and mobilize around the issue, 2) based on the conference, a book is currently being organized with the title "The Last Food Mile: Food Loss and Waste and Its Reduction, Recovery, and Recycling in the United States - A 2015 Status Report", and 3) expanded outreach through research and education efforts, e.g. incorporating food waste and food security into the curriculum, engaging students in and out of classroom settings, and conducting focus studies on consumer food behavior through grants from the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation as well as PURM (Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program).
USDA has identified innovation as a major driver in increasing the reduction, recovery, and recycling of food waste. Innovation helps to make reducing, recovering and recycling food waste economically viable for businesses, organizations and households by increasing the feasibility or reducing the cost of better food waste management. Innovation can also help stimulate economic development and job growth by turning food waste into an economic opportunity. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service supports innovation by conducting, often in collaboration with industry and academic partners, research on new technologies for reducing spoilage of fresh foods and the development of new products from waste materials at food processing facilities. This research stream, which is primarily conducted within ARS’s National Program on Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products, is reviewed/renewed in five-year cycles, with the next cycle starting in 2015.
At the launch of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge in June 2013, USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set a goal of 400 participants in the Challenge by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020. As of November 1, 2014, the U.S. Food Waste Challenge had over 1,000 participants. This level of participation demonstrates the real momentum that is building across the country to reduce, recover and recycle food waste.
In addition to spearheading the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA initiated a number of activities to help reduce, recover and recycle food waste in the United States. USDA has delivered on its commitments for 2014.
Minimize food waste in the school meals programs. USDA has taken a number of steps to measure plate waste in the school meal programs and to develop innovative approaches to reducing it:
Educate consumers on reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste. USDA has conducted a variety of activities to educate consumers about safe food storage, package dating, and the benefits of and steps to successfully reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste:
Recover or recycle food that has been removed from commerce. USDA completed a variety of activities to increase the recovery or recycling of wholesome food that is removed from commerce:
Update estimates of food loss in the United States. 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 is on track to release in June 2015 the results of a study updating the loss estimates for fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood at the retail level in the United States.
Conduct research on new technologies for reducing food waste. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service continues to conduct, often in collaboration with industry and academic partners, research on new technologies for reducing spoilage of fresh foods and the development of new products from waste materials at food processing facilities. Recent research projects include:
Reduce and recycle food waste at USDA headquarters. USDA increased the amount of food waste it composts from the USDA headquarters in Washington DC from 2,400 to about 2,650 pounds of food waste per week. This represents about a 10% increase, which is double the 2014 goal of 5%.