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Government agencies set goal to cut food waste in half by 2030

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/17/2015 Hadley Malcolm
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As part of its effort to act against climate change, the Obama administration has taken a sweeping stance to reduce food waste by 50% in the next 15 years. 

The announcement Wednesday from the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency is a continuation of efforts in recent years to educate consumers about food date labels and safe food storage, as well as partnerships with food companies to address food insecurity and help figure out how to reduce the billions of pounds of food that go to landfills. 

The average American family of four throws away an estimated $1,500 worth of food every year, and overall, retailers and consumers waste nearly a third of the country's food supply, according to government data. The 133 billion pounds of food that end up sitting in landfills each year also releases methane gas as it rots, which contributes to Earth's warming. Meanwhile, 14% of U.S. households are considered food insecure — they don't have enough food to sufficiently feed themselves.

"By reducing wasted food in landfills, we cut harmful methane emissions that fuel climate change, conserve our natural resources and protect our planet for future generations," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement.

According to the agencies, even reducing food waste by 15% would save enough food to feed more than 25 million people each year.

As part of the initiative, the USDA said it's launching a consumer education campaign, including tips on how to reduce waste, and is partnering with food-service companies and state and local governments, among others, to carry out the plan. Food companies, including grocery chain Albertson's, grocery-delivery service FreshDirect and food services company Sodexo, expressed their support — Albertson's said that it's working to divert food to hunger-relief organizations and repurposing scraps and leftovers for things like animal feed.

Research has shown that common reasons for food waste include consumer concerns about eating fresh and safe food. But those use-by and sell-by dates on food packages can be misleading. Sell-by dates are solely for the use of grocers to know how long to display a product for, while use-by dates refer to peak food quality, the USDA says. But once either date passes, it doesn't necessarily mean food is bad or unsafe to eat.

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