Weather Updates

Uniform expiration date system could trim food waste

Woman shopping produce section

Woman shopping in produce section

storyidforme: 36717114
tmspicid: 13500988
fileheaderid: 6229540

Updated: December 11, 2012 9:31AM

The National Resource Defense Council estimates that about 40 percent of all food here in the United States goes uneaten.

That translates to about $165 billion wasted each year; and costs the average family of four between $1,350 and $2,275 a year. To paint an even better picture, that’s about 20 pounds of food wasted per person each month. As we have seen America’s waistlines grow, so has the amount of food we waste. In fact, NRDC estimates we discard 50 percent more food than we did back in the 1970s.

As the voice of the Consumer Packaged Goods industry, Pam Bailey, president & CEO of Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), says that they have in place a great program for Sustainable Waste Management. GMA has identified that “food waste” is a major contributor to landfills (which NRDC reports is the single largest component of solid waste), so understanding where all that food waste comes from has been a major focus for the association over the past year.

And the timing may be perfect. The just-released Eco Pulse Survey from the Shelton Group reports that 39 percent of Americans feels “the most green guilt” for wasting food (that’s almost double the number who feel guilty about non-recycling or forgetting to bring their own bags to the store).

In the United Kingdom, where a public awareness program called “Love Food Hate Waste” began five years ago, more than 50 of the country’s leading food retailers and CPG brands have committed to reduce waste in operations and supply chain.

In 2012 the European Parliament passed a resolution to reduce food waste by half by the year 2020. And in my opinion, it is about time we do the same thing on this “side of the pond.”

There is one study that points out an easy fix, and one that frankly survey after survey notes as one of shoppers’ biggest frustrations. McKinsey Consulting reports that the one action that could help reduce waste would be the standardization and clarification of expiration dates on foods; which waste reduction organizations estimate that just this one “fix” could prevent up to 20 percent of food waste at home.

Saving money and eliminating waste could be easier than we ever imagined.

Phil Lempert is the editor of and reports on the latest trends on NBC’s “Today” show, ABC’s “The View” and local Chicago news programs.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.