Americans waste as much as 40 percent of the available food every year across the country and much of it is nutritious, representing a missed opportunity to improve people’s diets and prevent hunger, say researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future.
The center’s researchers calculated the nutritional value of wasted food at the retail and consumer levels, showing just how much protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin D and other nutrients are lost even as millions of Americans go hungry or don’t get enough of these nutrients.
While they found some of the food that gets tossed is not consumable, much of it is, including nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, seafood and dairy products that are wasted at disproportionately high rates.
“Huge quantities of nutritious foods end up in landfills instead of meeting Americans’ dietary needs,” said Marie Spiker, the study’s lead author and a fellow at the Center for a Livable Future, in a statement. “Our findings illustrate how food waste exists alongside inadequate intake of many nutrients.”
Researchers used the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data on 213 commodities to calculate their findings, which will be published online Monday in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Among the 27 nutrients that researchers considered, they found that, per person each day, wasted food accounted for 1,217 calories, 33 grams of protein, 5.9 grams of dietary fiber, 1.7 micrograms of vitamin D, 286 milligrams calcium and 880 milligrams potassium.
Researchers attributed the waste to aesthetic standards, large portion sizes and management of perishable food.
The federal government has set a goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030 through many avenues, including diversion of food to food banks.
Several efforts are underway in the Baltimore region to reduce food waste. Many stores in the Giant supermarket chain give unsold frozen meats to the Maryland Food Bank. The Baltimore nonprofit Unsung.org launched an app that alerts volunteers when restaurants, caterers and grocers have extra food that can be distributed to the homeless or hungry. The Howard County start-up Hungry Harvest delivers fresh produce that might have been thrown away for aesthetic reasons to paying customers, while donating 2 pounds of produce to the hungry for every order.
“While not all food that is wasted could or should be recovered, it reminds us that we are dumping a great deal of high quality, nutritious food that people could be enjoying,” said Roni Neff, who oversaw the study and directs the center’s Food System Sustainability and Public Health Program, in a statement.
“We should keep in mind that while food recovery efforts are valuable, food recovery doesn’t get to the heart of either the food insecurity problem or the waste problem,” Neff said. “We need strategies addressing these challenges at multiple levels.”