Waste less food for a healthy planet

If you want to do a good turn for the health of your community and your planet, consider the issue of food waste.

The National Resources Defense Council reports that up to 40% of food in the United States is never eaten, and the largest source of waste is people throwing out food at home. Wasted food is a significant contributor to climate change because greenhouse gasses are produced in the growing, processing, packaging, and transporting of wasted food, and more gasses are released as wasted food deteriorates in landfills.

How hospitals are helping

Hospitals often end up with extra food because patient meals are typically ordered the day before they’re needed, but patients can be discharged early, or needs can change. Kaiser Permanente hospitals have a history of reducing food waste by working to ensure that patient meal projections are as accurate as possible. But when there’s excess food, we partner with nonprofits to ensure that it doesn’t go to waste.

Nearly every Kaiser Permanente hospital in California works with a nonprofit partner or partners to rescue unserved perishable food and give it to people in need. By 2020, all California hospitals will be required by state law to make significant reductions in organic waste, including food waste.

At the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center last year, nearly 14,000 pounds of unserved food was picked up by Meals on Wheels on weekdays and No Time to Waste on weekends. Elizabeth Bailey, director of Food and Nutrition for the hospital, described the program as a point of pride for the whole department.

“We all feel good that the food is going to great causes and we’re keeping it out of the trash and landfill,” she said.

Fighting food insecurity

The California Association of Food Banks estimates that 1 in 8 Californians struggle with food insecurity — which means they don’t have regular access to the food they need to be healthy and active.

Jan Villarante, director, Kaiser Permanente National Nutrition Service, said the hospital food redistribution programs are helping.

 “The meals we redistribute in the community are of excellent nutritional quality with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Plus, much of our produce is locally sourced, so that helps local growers and the environment, too.”

Last year, Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Southern California donated more than 72,000 pounds of recovered food to local nonprofit groups. John Yamamoto, who serves as vice president for Community Health in Southern California, said the donations are another significant way the organization works to improve health and equity in the community.

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