Food waste, food rescue & why it matters

We caught up with the staff of ReFED to ask them about lessons learned during the pandemic, how the world would be different if we wasted less, and what each of us can do to be a part of the solution.

What’s one lesson you hope everyone learns from COVID as it relates to food waste?

COVID-19 has shown us that our food supply chain lacks resilience. Over time, the food system has become increasingly dependent on in-person labor and transportation over long distances. Because of this dependency, COVID-19 led to food business closures and transportation systems shutting down across the entire supply chain, resulting in the movement of food to come to a halt and a surge in wasted food.

Organizations like Lovin’ Spoonfuls and their fellow grantees of the ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund have demonstrated that it takes creative solutions and partnerships to address these breakdowns along the food supply chain and provide food to the growing number of food insecure individuals. 

Imagine a world where we wasted less (and rescued more)! What are a few things that would be different?

The food system produces more than enough food to feed every man, woman, and child in this country, yet nearly 40% of all food that’s produced is never eaten and goes to waste. As a result, food recovery organizations like Lovin’ Spoonfuls have been critical in moving food that would otherwise be wasted and providing it to those that need it most.

In a world where less food is wasted, it is likely that healthy and nutritious food would be more accessible and available to food insecure populations; that there is an increase in partnerships and collaborations to build a resilient food supply chain; and that, with advancement in technology, more effective last-mile delivery solutions are developed and implemented.

Do you have any recommendations for folks interested in reducing waste at home? Or in their workplace?

Typically, more than 40% of food waste occurs in the home, and while there are no new numbers yet, most experts believe that this percentage has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

To reduce food waste in your own home, we recommend people follow the “Food Waste Five”:

Plan Ahead:

  • Don’t buy groceries without thinking ahead a few days or a week to consider what you’ll be eating.
  • Planning ahead is easier than ever now that more and more people are ordering their groceries online.
  • Consider “recipe trios” to help use up food that you buy in bulk – for example, if you cook a roast chicken for dinner one night, make chicken tacos the next night, and chicken salad for lunch the following day.
  • If you’re going to eat frozen pizza once (or twice) a week, plan for that too, so you don’t buy anything else for that night and end up not eating it.

Store Your Food Properly

  • Different foods need to be stored differently, and they’ll last a lot longer when they are stored right – for example, fresh herbs can be stored in a glass of water like flowers in your fridge; apples should be stored in the fridge, but oranges are fine on your counter; and bread should be wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil to retain its moisture.

Use Your Freezer

  • Your freezer is a magic “pause” button to keep food fresh longer.
  • Freezing food is a great way to extend its life – you can freeze most anything, cooked and uncooked (check online to see which is best for the foods you’re freezing).
  • An added benefit is when you don’t feel like cooking and can just take something out of the freezer to heat up and eat.

Learn the Labels

  • The most common date labels are “best if used by,” “sell by” or “expires on” followed by a specific date – learning what labels really mean can save you from throwing something away when it’s still perfectly good to eat.
  • Date labels typically refer to quality, not safety.
  • Major food industry groups have endorsed the use of “use by” to indicate when a product should be discarded for food safety reasons.
  • So use your best judgment – if a product looks good, smells good, and tastes good, it’s probably OK to consume.

Eat Down

  • As you’re planning ahead for what you’ll be eating for the week, plan in a day to Eat Down all of the leftovers and excess food in your fridge.
  • Separately, they might not be enough for a full meal, but together, they’re just right.
  • Create a smorgasbord of leftovers for your family to graze on.
  • Make meals like tacos, soups, and salads where you can be creative with a range of different ingredients.
  • Some people like Wasteless Wednesdays, others go with Stir-Fridays

Visit SaveTheFood.com for more information on how to make the food you buy last longer. It’s got a lot of great information – including meal plans, storage tips, recipes, and more.

For businesses, it’s important to understand that wasting food has a direct impact on finances and operations. We recommend making sure that your existing food waste reduction plans are still adequate after COVID-related changes to business operations. And if you don’t already have a food waste reduction plan in place, here are some things you can do:

  • Identify Internal Champions – Find and elevate individuals (often on-site managers or social leaders) to prioritize and lead initiatives to make food waste unacceptable in your business’s culture.
  • Engage Your Team in a New “Business As Usual” – Incorporating sustainable solutions to food waste reduction requires training and regular team engagement.
  • Know What You’re Wasting – Track what and how much you’re wasting, why it’s being wasted, and where it’s going. Pay attention to how operational changes are impacting waste.
  • Manage Production Carefully – Determine your minimum merchandising levels, both in diversity and amount of product, as well as prioritize whole-product and cross-utilization.
  • Limit Your Menus (for Restaurants and other Foodservice Businesses) – Be thoughtful about the size of your menu and the diversity of options offered and consider the implications on forecasting, inventory, and waste management.
  • Communicate With Customers – Engage a newly conscious and attentive audience about food waste reduction best practices, and look for opportunities to help your customers reduce food waste in their own homes with packaging that facilitates storage and reduces spoilage.
  • Build & Strengthen Donation Partnerships – Learn about food recovery organizations (like Lovin’ Spoonfuls) in your community and co-create recovery plans for both normal operations and times of closure or crisis