Food Waste Has Become Worse During the Pandemic

Even before the pandemic, Americans wasted about 40% of the food we produced, or about $218 billion worth each year. Now a report from the nonprofit ReFED shows the pandemic has worsened the problem of food waste – but may also lead to a smarter, more nimble food supply.

The COVID-19 U. S. Food System Review found farms were devastated when demand from restaurants, cruise ships and airlines evaporated overnight. Jackie Suggitt, stakeholder engagement director with ReFED, said thousands of tons of excess food had to be destroyed.

The report also noted big shifts in where people get their food – with demand skyrocketing for food pantries, grocery stores and boxed meal kits. Also, in an effort to go out less often, many consumers began hoarding food, buying more than they could eat right away, which led to more food going to waste.

Prior to the pandemic, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimated 20% of the state’s trash consisted of food waste.

Meanwhile, the ReFED report also found when food labels say “best by” a certain date, it can encourage waste, because people think food has spoiled when it’s still perfectly edible a few days past peak freshness.

Suggitt said standardized labels that emphasize food quality as opposed to food safety could promote less waste.

She added disruptions in the food chain caused by the pandemic have made people place more value on locally sourced food. And it has encouraged farms and distributors to innovate new best practices for sales channels, inventory controls and packaging.

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