The Challenge of Food Waste and Loss & How You Can Help

Some of the compelling images during the coronavirus pandemic have shown massive amounts of produce being plowed under and milk being dumped. At the same time, people across the nation and world are facing financial hardship, food supply shortages, and grocery purchase limits. Seeing images of food waste amid scarcity has prompted public outcry. Yet the issue of food waste is not simple or new. Seeing food waste at such a crisis point offers us a good opportunity to turn toward the challenge, learn more, and find ways we can help.

Food loss and food waste

The Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated in 2011 that one-third of the world’s food was lost or wasted every year. Food losses are defined as decreases in quality or quantity of food from the time of harvest up to, but not including, retail or food service. Foods that are diverted into livestock feed or seed production are not considered losses. Food waste occurs when foods are discarded at the retail, food service, or consumer levels.

Why do we have food loss and food waste?

Causes of food loss and food waste vary among countries and regions. It’s important to understand the causes in our local area, so we can identify where to focus on solutions.

Food Loss

Food losses can occur on the farm or during distribution. On-farm losses can be affected by the timing and method of harvest, weather conditions, post-harvest handling, storage, and marketing. For example, during the coronavirus pandemic, some of our local growers faced losses because purchases from their normal market outlets (restaurants and institutional buyers) sharply declined. Growers were left quickly searching for new outlets, sometimes competing with foreign produce. Meanwhile, with produce ready to harvest and buyers not readily available, losses began to occur. Without funding to pay the costs of harvest and transport, even the prospect of donating produce was not feasible in many cases.

Off-farm losses can occur during transportation, processing, and packaging. In our country, we have good transportation infrastructure, compared to many developing countries. However, we lose produce during the sorting process, as fruits and vegetables that are oddly shaped or of sub-optimal size or color are culled out. The UN estimates about 14% of the world’s food is lost between from harvest up to when the food reaches retail locations.

Food Waste

Food waste occurs in retail locations (e.g. grocery stores), food service establishments (restaurants, schools, etc.), and consumer households. Waste includes discarded perishable foods that have reached or surpassed their “best-before” date and left over edible food discarded from kitchens and restaurants. The USDA estimates food waste at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. Approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food were lost to food waste in 2010.

What can we do to help?

Learn More

The organizations listed below offer more great tips and resources to reduce food loss and waste:


Posted: April 29, 2020

Category: Agriculture, Disaster Preparation, UF/IFAS Extension, , Work & Life
Tags: Agriculture, Commercial Horticulture Digest, Coronavirus, Food Waste, Local Food, Martin County, UF/IFAS Extension

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