WASHINGTON — An estimated 133 billion lbs. of food from US retail food stores, restaurants and consumers went uneaten, but the US Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency have launched an initiative aimed at taking a bite out food waste across the food chain.

The US Food Waste Challenge is a movement to change current thinking about food management and food waste in the US. USDA and EPA have called on producers, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities and government agencies to reduce, recover and recycle food waste. The goal is to have 400 partner organizations in the challenge by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020. Private-sector partners so far include Rio Farms, Unilever, General Mills, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, Feeding America and Rock and Wrap It Up!.

"The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Not only could this food be going to folks who need it – we also have an opportunity to reduce the amount of food that ends up in America's landfills. By joining together with EPA and businesses from around the country, we have an opportunity to better educate folks about the problem of food waste and begin to address this problem across the nation."

USDA is initiating a wide range of activities aimed at reducing waste in the school meals program, educating consumers about food waste and food storage, and developing new technologies to reduce food waste. USDA also has pledged to work with industry on increasing donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamlining procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, updating US food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-testing a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.

EPA, through its Food Recovery Challenge, will provide participants with the opportunity to access data management software and technical assistance (www.epa.gov/smm/foodrecovery/) to help quantify and improve their sustainable food management practices. "Food waste the single largest type of waste entering our landfills — Americans throw away up to 40 percent of their food. Addressing this issue not only helps with combating hunger and saving money, but also with combating climate change: food in landfills decomposes to create potent greenhouse gases," said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. "I'm proud that EPA is joining with USDA today to announce the US Food Waste Challenge. With the help of partners across the country, we can ensure that our nation's food goes to our families and those in need – not the landfill."