More than one-fourth of the food produced in the United States spoils, is tossed out unused or goes uneaten on the plate, the government said Tuesday.
“By recovering a fraction of this food, we could get food to those in need, instead of tossing it into the Dumpster,” said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
The Agriculture Department study estimated that food lost in retail stores, restaurants and people’s homes in 1995 amounted to more than 96 billion pounds - one-quarter of the total U.S. food supply of 356 billion pounds.
If the average person consumes 3 pounds of food per day, Glickman said recovery of even 5 percent of the wasted food would provide enough for 4 million people. And in terms of trash, the study estimated that if 5 percent of the annual losses were recovered, taxpayers would save $50 million in solid waste disposal costs.
The vast bulk of the food is lost in people’s homes, where food spoils in the refrigerator or is tossed uneaten into the garbage can, and in restaurants and other food service industries.
Homes and food service sites accounted for 91 billion pounds of lost food.
The remaining 5.4 billion pounds was lost in retail groceries through overstocking, discarding of perishable items such as fresh produce and dairy products, and food removed for bypassing its “sell-by” date.
Two-thirds of the lost food was fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and grain products such as bread and sweeteners, the USDA found.
The study recommended continued emphasis on programs, many of them run by nonprofit charities such as Second Harvest, to collect and distribute to the needy unused food from farms, restaurants and stores.
Glickman said a law signed by President Clinton last year nearly eliminates liability to donors, which was one reason cited for not donating food to non-profit organizations.
Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Central Missouri Food Bank, said businesses are still nervous.
“The response we get when we ask for donations is, ‘The Good Samaritan Law has never been tested.”’
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