Buffets, bruised produce contribute to billions of pounds in food waste

Buffets, bruised produce contribute to billions of pounds in food waste. (NTV News)

According to the USDA, one in six Americans is facing hunger. Yet, the United States is throwing away an alarming amount of food.

An in-depth look at our country's food waste problem reveals where the blame may lie.

"I imagine it's probably more than what people realize," said Nathan Eckhout, of the Central District Health Department.

According to the USDA, approximately 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States in one year.

This food waste begins at farms.

"We have what we call seconds," said Linda Schwarz, of Schwarz Family Farms. "And we can't sell those because they're bruised or they have little cracks on them or something. They're still really good tomatoes but we can't sell them, their life isn't as long."

The waste continues with packaged food in nearly all departments of the grocery stores.

"Anytime that package is compromised, it could spoil quickly, that and the quality of the food might go down plus there might be a bacteria or a virus that got in there or it could be compromised like that, that way so we don't know so it's easier just to get rid of that product," Eckhout said.

It's not just about packaging - produce can become waste, too.

"Looks are everything when it comes to a grocery store, if you got a product that's somewhat damaged and you got a product right besides it that's not they're probably going to take the product that's not," Eckhout said.

Some say the majority of food waste happens at the next level - in restaurants.

"There can be a lot of waste sometimes," Eckhout said.

According to the Green Restaurant Association, a single eatery can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in one year and buffets are a big culprit.

"With your hot foods we like to see at 135 or higher. So, if they're in that temperature range, higher or lower, then they're good. They can sit out all day long," Eckhout said.

But for many places, the food doesn't stay that long.

"It's just going to be more of a quality issue, you get three or four more hours on a food product, that's not going to look very good, that's not going to taste very good, so a lot of times restaurants or buffets or stuff will go ahead and throw that away just because customers are not going to like it and if a customer don't like it they're probably not going to come back," Eckhout said.

In 2015 the USDA created their first food loss goal, calling for a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030.

And here, some Nebraskans are working to minimize their own waste, starting at the farm.

"We are doing a feasibility study to see if we can use these seconds for things such as salsa and Bloody Mary mixes and different things that I make myself. ... In the past we've just, a lot of tomatoes just got thrown away," Schwarz said.

These efforts continue in grocery stores where food is being rescued by the Community Action Food Bank.

"Just because they need taken off the shelf doesn't mean they can't be used," said Kyla Martin, of the Community Action Food Bank. "You might see frozen meat in the manager's special at the grocery store, quick sale, we bring this back to the food bank and freeze it and then we are able to re-home it at our mobile produce pantries."

Hy-Vee is now home to the new Misfits produce program.

"A company called Robinson Fresh, what they did is went ahead and bought up a bunch of unused, misshaped, doesn't meet industry standards for shape or size or whatever else they can find wrong with it. They repackage it and allow us to buy it so we can sell it to the consumer at a discounted price, saving them money and also keeping a lot of that waste out the landfill," said Marcus Witter, produce manager at Hy-Vee.

Hy-Vee says in just four months since this Misfits program began, more than one million pounds of fruits and vegetables have been saved from landfills.

"We're able to make some money on it and also give some back to the community and help save the landfills, and they can still get the nutritional value but not maybe pay that premium price for the products," Witter said.

If you'd like to participate in the USDA Food Loss and Waste Challenge, details can be found here.

To follow this story, and all of Jessica Stevenson's local news coverage, find her on facebook and twitter.

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