A 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) analyzed eight years of food data and found that we waste 150,000 tons of food a day across the country. That works out to be nearly a pound per person per day, or 225-290 pounds per year, meaning about 20% of food is wasted on the consumer level each year. The good news is that the statistics behind the study were only up to 2014, and with all the recent focus on wasted food, it's possible that number isn't quite so high now.
But, there's no evidence that's the case, and so I'm talking about food waste again. A 2015 study found that three-quarters of Americans believe they waste less food than the average person. If you're a healthy eater, however, and you think you waste less food than others, you're probably mistaken. The healthiest eaters waste the most food because they purchase the most fruits and vegetables.
Produce, the staple of healthy diets, is wasted most, followed by dairy products and then meat, according to the USDA study. Those perishables are often bought with the best intentions but spoil before they're eaten.
The study, according to The Guardian, recommends educating consumers on how to store fruits and vegetables in order to reduce food waste.
Lisa Jahns, a USDA nutritionist and co-author of the study, told The Guardian, "Consumers aren't connecting the dots, [and] they don't see the cost when they throw food in the trash. At the same time, we don't want to undermine legitimate food safety concerns and we need to be aware it's not just the cost of food that's the issue. It's the time and energy required to prepare and store food, which often isn't a priority in a busy household."
The study also took a look at food waste at the grocery store level. My focus when it comes to food waste is usually on the consumer level because, despite my efforts, food still gets wasted in my house, particularly fresh produce.
Practical ways to curb household food waste
Over the years, I've worked on several ways to use up the food I buy at the grocery store. I've written about many of them hoping to educate anyone who would also like practical ways to waste less food in their kitchen.
- Using my sense of sight and smell instead of blindly following sell-by dates. Sell-by, use-by and best-by dates are often arbitrary, and they contribute to a lot of food waste. A study showed that nine out of 10 Americans throw away food that's perfectly good because of these arbitrary dates. The dates are mostly a guess by food manufacturers as to when foods will hit their peak quality. They do not mean you will automatically get food poisoning if you eat them after the stamped-on date.
- Leftover night. On weeks where there is an abundance of leftovers in the refrigerator from previous dinners, I declare "clean out the fridge night," reheat everything, and that's what's for dinner.
- A weekly, intentional fridge check. The purpose of this check is to figure out what needs to be used up before it goes bad or has to be frozen to eat another time. For example, this weekend I put half a spinach bacon pie in the freezer because I knew it wouldn't get finished soon. And, there's chicken that needs to get used and I have frozen gnocchi in the freezer so tonight there will be a skillet chicken and gnocchi dinner.
- A blender specifically for smoothies. Since I bought a new blender last month, my sons and I have thrown all sorts of fruits, avocados and even spinach into it along with low-sugar yogurt, juice, nut butter, flax seed and anything else that seems appropriate to create all sorts of delicious, healthy drinks. In fact, I've been buying more produce than ever since we started this. Everyone is eating more fruits and vegetables because of my solution to wasting fewer fruits and vegetables.
It takes a conscious effort to keep food from going into the garbage and I do better some weeks than others. The challenge to waste as little food as possible in my home is an ongoing one, and one I refuse to give up on.