JoAnn Alumbaugh
JoAnn Alumbaugh

Editor's note: The following editorial was featured in the July/August issue of PorkNetwork magazine.

It’s a tragedy, really. We produce the safest, most abundant food supply in the world, but the Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates that in 2010, 31 percent of food available for consumption at the retail and consumer levels in the United States went uneaten. That percentage represents about 133 billion pounds of food.

There are a variety of reasons this unacceptable number exists. It includes food that is not consumed due to moisture loss or cooking shrinkage as well as food loss from mold, pests or inadequate climate control. It also includes food waste, which is edible food discarded by retailers due to color or appearance and plate waste thrown away by consumers.

While ERS researchers have estimated the amount of food loss that occurs in U.S. grocery stores, restaurants, and homes, the waste portion of this loss has not been calculated because of data limitations.

“Some loss is inevitable because food is inherently perishable, and spoiled or deteriorated food must be discarded to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply,” write Jean Buzby and Hodan Wells, with the USDA Economic Research Service. “Legal liability and strict food safety rules can inhibit the recovery of uneaten food from homes, restaurants, and other eating establishments to be redistributed to hungry people. Costs to reduce food loss or to safely collect, store, and transport wholesome, uneaten food to food banks can also be prohibitive.”

Obviously, 133 billion pounds of food loss is a ridiculous number. As food producers, you need to be engaged in this conversation. We need to be looking for workable solutions, because too many people who need food aren’t getting it.

In June 2013, the U.S. Food Waste Challenge was launched, calling on U.S. producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, local municipalities, and government agencies to reduce food loss and waste; to recover wholesome food for human consumption; and to recycle discards to other uses including animal feed, composting, and energy generation. The goal of the Challenge is to lead a fundamental shift in how Americans think about and manage food and food waste.

In my opinion, it’s our responsibility to not only produce food, but to ensure it gets in the hands of those who need it. What better way can we show consumers we care?

For more articles and features from the July/August issue of PorkNetwork, click here.