Food Waste Rising During COVID-19 Pandemic

Without restaurants to purchase food, food waste is on the rise.
Without restaurants to purchase food, food waste is on the rise.

April 6, 2020 — Food and commodity shortages are not as much of a concern during the current COVID-19 but rather the significant increase in food waste becoming evident across the United States. In the wake of large buyers such as restaurants and even university dormitories shutting their doors, there has been a decrease in bulk purchases from food suppliers. This has resulted in large amounts of food going to waste and effectively being dumped. For example, dairy farmers are having to dump millions of gallons of milk that are not being purchased and will go bad — essentially throwing hard-earned product down the drain. Other farmers are having to turn fresh vegetables into mulch as they cannot move their product in time before it spoils.

In response to this, federal agencies are moving quickly to ease up on regulations that govern trucks, imports, labeling requirements and agricultural visas. The hope is that this will help producers shift their business in the changing climate — however, this isn’t without its challenges. Many food manufacturers sell to restaurants, but that isn’t a viable purchasing source right now. All of the demand is shifting from food service to food retail. Bahige El-Rayes, from consulting firm Kearney, states that “If you’re a manufacturer today of food, it’s basically how do you adapt? How do you actually take what you sent to restaurants then sell it now to retail?” These are logistical questions that many food producers are scrambling to answer as they try and get their precious product into consumer’s hands.

In the weeks to come, rewiring the United States food network is a top priority for federal agencies. The goal is to keep food products moving, shelves stocked and people fed. The looming food waste crisis is too critical to ignore.