Helping Consumers Reduce Food Waste
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
According to the USDA up to 40% of food is wasted every year in the United States and the estimated cost of food and beverages thrown out by the average American family annually is around $1,500. Wasted food also means a waste of natural resources, water, and energy. Supermarket RDs have a unique opportunity to help consumers reduce waste by providing education that can have a positive financial and environmental impact. Here are some efforts to consider:
- Continue to help shoppers plan meals. Having a plan with a shopping list is one of the simplest ways to avoid food waste. Include recipes and meals using leftovers and “distressed” but safe produce.
- A lot of food never leaves the farms because customers have no interest in buying wonky produce. Help your store set up an “ugly” fruit and veggie display and provide recipes that don’t require perfect produce, like vegetable soup.
- Promote foods across the entire store to vary fresh foods with those that have a longer shelf life. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, for example, are affordable and create nutritious meal accompaniments.
- Teach a class on food storage 101. Educate shoppers on how to properly freeze foods to avoid waste and promote the use of storage containers for leftover lunches to go. Include the concept of FIFO (first in, first out) as a lot of food waste occurs from items that simply get lost in the back of the refrigerator or pantry. Check out Stilltasty.com which provides an extensive guide to the shelf life of all foods or promote the Foodkeeper app that helps consumers understand food and beverage storage.
- Write an article on how to treat expiration and sell-by dates as guidelines. Many food items are tossed simply based on these dates when they are still perfectly safe to consume. Include tips for recognizing real food spoilage and safety concerns.
- Post a leftovers campaign on your store's Facebook page. Encourage customers to interact by sending in their favorite recipes using leftover food and direct them to your website for advice on how to reduce food waste.
- Learn from others. Many Danish supermarkets are starting to sell good food, which is nearing its expiration date, at reduced prices. The supermarkets waste less food and earn money on the food, which otherwise would have been tossed. These “stop food waste” bargains have become quite popular, and could become a model for other supermarkets.
- Check out resources and toolkits available to help with your efforts:
- Food Waste Reduction Alliance (a collaboration with FMI, GMA and the National Restaurant Association)
Create shopper loyalty by adding waste reduction education to your wellness programming. Customers will appreciate your guidance to help them save money and protect the environment.