As residents across southeast Iowa sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, a local health specialist encourages everyone to be mindful of food waste.

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, the average person wastes about five pounds of food per week. In a study conducted in 2017 by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, it was estimated that around 190,000 tons of unopened food ends up in landfills. This would equate to full garbage trucks lined up from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids, around 55 miles in length. Washington County Environmental Health Public Health Inspector Cindy Chavez says that food waste around the holiday increases by 25%. She provides some tips residents can follow to help cut back on food waste, “Cleaning out your refrigerator before you actually head to the store is a good idea. Making sure that you clean it out, often we forget those leftovers hidden way back in the refrigerator and the freezer. Before running to the store, maybe make a game plan. So a menu that you intend to prepare for the festivities.”

Chavez added that Iowa’s food waste is slightly higher than the national average. She says leftovers can be a big source of food waste and that freezing them can help them last longer. If residents grow tired of eating leftovers, they are encouraged to find holiday leftover recipes to create a new dish or allow guests to take food home with them.