Have you ever gotten into an argument about whether a carton of eggs are still good even though the date on the label has passed? It's happened in our households and we bet it's happened in yours.
Although it seems like a harmless domestic disagreement, the truth is when you throw away perfectly good food simply because the date has passed, that food is wasted. While date labels are intended as a marketing tool to convey to consumers peak quality, they are often confused with issues of food safety leading consumers to discard perfectly safe food.
The issue related to consumer confusion regarding marketing versus safety is much broader. It not only contributes to food waste and adverse consequences to the environment, it does nothing to address food insecurity in America. And it's not a minor problem.
By some estimates, 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States is thrown away. That costs American consumers and businesses $160 billion a year — which works out to about $125 a month for a family of four. For a working family struggling to make ends meet, that's a substantial amount of money.
Most of that wasted food ends up in landfills. In fact, food is the largest single source of waste in municipal landfills.
And the amount of food that goes to waste is increasing every year. This is a significant problem, but it's also a significant opportunity. While all this food is being wasted, 46.5 million Americans are food insecure according to data by Feeding America. We can cut that number in half if we stop throwing away so much food and reduce food waste by just 15 percent.
Tackling this problem requires us to look at every part of the food system. Food gets wasted at the farm, in grocery stores, restaurants, in grade schools, universities, and in our homes. Some of the solutions may involve changes to public policy, while others may happen entirely within the private sector. A little common sense, public education, and a change in behavior will go a long way toward reducing the amount of good food we throw away every year.
In Congress, we've begun discussing ways that we can address food waste, and at a Wednesday hearing of the House Agriculture Committee, we will listen to the testimony of experts from both the public and private sectors.
One witnesses will be Jesse Fink, a successful entrepreneur who is the driving force behind a new report, ReFED—a Roadmap to Reduce US Food Waste that takes a comprehensive and objective look at the drivers of food waste and identifies cost-effective and efficient solutions. The committee will also hear about research and first-hand examples of efforts undertaken to lessen food waste.
It marks the start of a bipartisan effort to address food waste. Addressing this problem shouldn't depend on what party we belong to or what part of the country we represent.
And in the end, we should also remember the advice of our grandmothers, who told us to clean our plates and not let all that good food go to waste.