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Food Waste: Assessing the problem

Food waste is a massive, multifaceted challenge.

In its “Food Loss and Waste” report, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) estimates between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply is wasted.

ReFED, a nonprofit committed to reducing U.S. food waste, estimates 52 million tons of food are sent to U.S. landfills annually. Another 10 million tons are discarded or left unharvested on farms.

The result is $218 billion spent on growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten.

The fresh produce industry encounters heavy waste under normal conditions. Add in a disruptive event like the coronavirus pandemic, and the problem becomes more acute.

The Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708 estimates $5 billion in fresh fruits and vegetables were wasted during the early months of the pandemic—at a time when retail inventories were depleted, and food banks were being overwhelmed with requests for assistance.

As Covid-19 underscores, food waste is a major societal, environmental, and economic challenge.

Recognizing the issue, the federal government set a long-term goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030. Individual companies, industry coalitions, and innovators are directly engaging in the waste reduction quest.

To meet this 50 percent target, it is essential to pinpoint the underlying causes of food waste and to develop appropriate reduction strategies that are sustainable over time.

This is an excerpt from a Supply Chain Solutions feature in the November/December issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the full feature.

Dr. Brian Gibson is executive director of Auburn University’s Center for Supply Chain Innovation and a former logistics manager.