Preventing Wasted Food

by the City of Tacoma

Like you, we love food – trying new recipes, making meals with family and friends, and taking advantage of the best deals in the market. Our love for food, though, often leads to something we hate: waste. More specifically, food waste. When leftovers go uneaten or a great deal on strawberries turns to mold, we find ourselves considering our role in the problem of wasted food in America.

The average American wastes around 300 pounds of food per year. A typical family of four spends $1,600 on food that goes uneaten and $165 billion is spent annually to produce food that goes to waste. This represents a tremendous loss for our economy and environment. Along with wasted money, this results in huge amounts of wasted water, energy, fuel, labor, and time. In addition, unused food decomposing in landfills releases harmful emissions that contribute to climate change. These facts co-exist with the reality that we struggle to feed the hungry people in our community.

Food in the garbage comes in two forms. One form is unavoidable food waste, such as egg shells and banana peels which can be composted; the other form is avoidable – it’s simply edible food that was wasted instead of eaten. We can prevent wasted food and it is our responsibility to do so.

The problem is so serious that awareness campaigns are being
launched by local, regional and national governments.  Environmental organizations are working hard on this issue, too, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). A major focus is helping shoppers reduce wasted food in their homes, an important tactic when you consider that 43% of food is wasted by households.

Food also happens to be the number one material in Tacoma’s garbage. To address this issue, the City of Tacoma launched a Preventing Wasted Food campaign to help people realize and reduce the amount of food they waste. Marlene’s shoppers can learn more at and

Food waste prevention tips
– Plan to shop weekly and only for what is needed that week.
– Make a shopping list, and stick to it!
– Shop through your fridge, freezer, and pantry first to see what you already have.
– Buy fresh, loose produce in smaller quantities, more often.
– Designate a “use it up” shelf in your fridge for soon-to-expire goods that need to be eaten soon.
– Choose grains, pasta, nuts and beans from the bulk section to control quantities.
– Freeze fruits and greens that are about to go bad, and use them in smoothies and soups.
– Try backyard or worm composting at home.

Food Safety
How do you know if food is safe to eat? Sometimes it’s obvious – moldy or rotten food has gone bad. Other times it’s hard to tell. The more time your food spends in the temperature “danger zone” (40 – 120 degrees F), the more likely it will be unsafe to eat. If you leave food out on the counter or in a hot car, it could be unsafe even before the date on the package. Keeping food properly stored and using it before it becomes unsafe will go a long way to reducing wasted food.

What is the difference between “sell by,” “use by,” “best by,” and expiration dates? – A “Sell by” date tells the store how long to display a product for sale. Food past this date is generally still safe to eat.

– A “Best before” date is about food quality. After these dates foods are safe to eat, but they are past their peak flavor or quality.
– A “Use by” date is the last date that foods are at peak quality. These dates are set by the manufacturer and are usually about quality, not safety. After this date, food should be safe if it has been stored properly.
– Cans: Dates stamped on cans do not have to do with food safety. As long as the can is not damaged and has not been frozen or stored above 90 degrees F, the canned food should be safe to eat.
– Eggs: Even if the date stamped on eggs has passed, eat them within three to five weeks of purchasing. If they are properly stored in the refrigerator, they are safe to eat.

Remember, proper storage is key! We can’t say for sure how long after “use by” dates food will be good, but if you store the food properly it should last longer.

Consider Compost!
By composting, we respect, preserve, and create a rapidly depleting resource that our lives depend on…soil! Not only do we avoid the problems caused by wasting, but we realize the significant benefits that composting offers:

– Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
– Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
– Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material
– Reduces ethane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint

Donate Your Extra Food
Today nearly 50 million Americans have inconsistent or unreliable access to food. This means that roughly one out of six adults and one out of five children do not have stable access to food. Reducing food loss in the U.S. by just 15% could help feed more than 25 million Americans.

One step you can take towards reducing wasted food in your home is to donate food you no longer want or think you won’t eat. It is easiest to donate commercially packaged goods that do not need refrigeration.

To donate food, find a food bank near you.
Tacoma or Pierce County:
Federal Way or King County:

A full list of food you can and cannot donate in Washington
can be found at