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Food Waste: The cost of throwing money away

Several agencies in Reno have a plan to save food before it ends up in the trash can. (Sinclair Broadcast Group)

We throw out a lot of food in this country -- 133 billion pounds a year to be exact. That could fill up Nevada's football stadium more than three times each day.

But some Northern Nevada folks are trying to do something about it.

At every Washoe County School District lunchroom, kids toss a lot of food in the trash. At Echo Loder Elementary, all kids receive free breakfast and lunch because their families don't earn enough money to get federal reimbursement money, and the meals must meet strict nutrition standards.

The district makes up to 50,000 meals every day at its prep kitchen in Reno.

"A certain number of items have to be on that tray in order to qualify as a meal to get that reimbursement," said Tracey Marcum the Director of Nutrition Services at the Washoe County School District.

Fruits and vegetables have to be served to kids, for example, even if they don't want it or won't eat it. And the district says the health department restricts them from re-serving food.

"All of it is very strict. We have regulations from the time it comes to our dock, before we even package it, to service time. Even in the cafeteria, whether that food can leave the cafeteria or it cannot, time and temperature control. There are regulations for everything we do at every point," Marcum said.

So a lot of food ends up in trash bins and dumpsters.

"It's irresponsible to be throwing things away in the trash, just to throw things away, and we know that," Marcum said.

Now the district is trying to save the prepackaged food like cookies and crackers in wrappers, and even fruit that you can peel.

"If it's a non-temperature controlled item or a pre-packaged item that might be able to be shared or distributed later, we are currently working with the health department to get a solution to that problem," Marcum said.

Grocery stores and restaurants toss a large amount of food that Shannon Dobbs, through his non-profit On Common Ground, would like to re-purpose.

"A lot of the food is so vulnerable, it requires refrigeration, it has an extremely low shelf life, and because of that it ends up going into the landfill because there's not really any place to put it," said Dobbs.

Dobbs is looking for funding to build a commercial kitchen to take expiring food and turn it into ready-to-eat food.

"If we can get in line with capturing that food then we can start producing cooked food that can stabilize that food," Dobbs said.

He would like to make the food available to the food bank, which can then choose how it should be distributed. On Common Ground also has plans for a mobile food bus and even a downtown wholesale grocery store that would be the hub of their food saving operation.

The Food Bank of Northern Nevada already rescues food that would be tossed food from grocery stores.

"We go around to all the grocery stores in town and we pick up food that's almost out of date but isn't quite. So that we can help turn that around and give it to clients in our area right away," said Jocelyn Lantrip the Director of Marketing for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

The program is called Fresh Rescue. The food bank gives the perishable food to 140 agencies it partners with like emergency shelters, food pantries and senior centers.

"We can get that food and make sure it doesn't get wasted," said Lantrip. "There's a lot of food wasted in our country today."

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