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Food Waste and Hunger

By Jason Hatcher

Today, 40% of food is wasted in the United States.* This adds up to an astonishing total of 70 billion pounds of food, and with more than 315,000 people in Orange County alone who don’t get enough food to eat, this seems even more awful to think about.

Where does all this wasted food come from? There are many areas of waste throughout the supply chain, but one major area is in your own home. The average family of four throws away $1500 worth of food every year, despite 90% of it still being consumable. This means that even though product may be past its “best-by” or “use-by” date, it is still nutritious, edible, and most importantly – safe to eat – for many days after. Learning more about how you can reduce waste at your house will go a long way in helping reduce food waste.


While it can be complicated, this breakout helps to explain other steps that can be taken to reduce food waste: prevention, recovery, and recycling:

  • Prevention – Prevention means limiting food waste before it ever happens. This can happen when farmers end up overproducing too much food. In fact, lots of produce gets left in the field because it’s either imperfect or there aren’t enough hands to pick it up. This provides opportunity for a “second harvest,” which takes us to the next tier: recovery.
  • Recovery – Food recovery solutions take nutritious food that is still good to eat and donates it to those in need. Every 1 pound of food recovered is the equivalent to 1.2 meals. According to the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, feeding people is the most preferred way to reduce food waste. The number one recovery solution is to connect excess food outlets to food banks. Programs like Grocery Rescue link daily recovery with local food pantries.
  • Recycling – Recycling ensures food that cannot be recovered is properly diverted from landfill, composted and turned into energy.

At Second Harvest, we actively work on the Recovery step to source food from across the entire supply chain – from farmers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. One of our most promising programs, the Grocery Rescue Program, addresses a large area of food waste. Approximately 40% of all wasted food comes from consumer-facing businesses like supermarkets, retailers, and restaurants. Through our Grocery Rescue Program, we can recover food with consistent, sustainable partnerships with local grocery stores, to capture fresh and highly nutritious product that they can no longer use for a variety of reasons. Through information provided by Feeding America, USDA, and FDA, we know that food past its “best-by” date is still wholesome, nutritious, and safe to eat. In 2015, Second Harvest was able to recover over 8 million pounds of high-quality food through our Grocery Rescue Program, providing more than 6.6 million meals to the hungry in Orange County.

But we can always do better. Here’s where we can improve and expand our recovery efforts:

  • Adding more trucks to our fleet so we can do more large scale food recovery
  • More volunteers/labor to help sort and distribute food
  • Building the capacity of our community partners with small scale infrastructure like more transportation, refrigeration and storage space so they’re able to distribute more food

The more we can do to expand programs like our Grocery Rescue Program, the better we will be able to reach everyone in Orange County who needs our help. If you’d like to find out more about our food recovery efforts or help us expand our capacity to collect and distribute rescued food, contact [email protected]

* Savethefood.com