The USDA recently released a report titled “The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States.”

The report defines food loss as “the amount of edible food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption, but is not consumed for any reason.” Those reasons can range from natural shrinkage of food (like when you cook a hamburger and some of the fat cooks away) to the perfectly good food that gets rejected by supermarkets for having blemishes or discoloration or many, many other reasons.

Here are some of the big findings in the report.

  • Thirty-one percent (133 billion pounds) of the 430 bill pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer level in 2010 went uneaten.
  • Ten percent of that waste was on the retail level: 21 percent of that waste was at the consumer level.
  • The estimated value of food loss was $161.6 billion.
  • Thirty percent of meat, poultry and fish were wasted.
  • Nineteen percent of vegetables were wasted.
  • Seventeen percent of dairy was wasted.
  • 387 billion calories of food was wasted per day in 2010, or 1,249 out of every 3,796 calories available per day.

It’s important to note that this report only deals with the loss of food once it hits the retailer, not loss of food on the farm or loss of food between the farm and the retailer.

Almost 1/3 of food that makes it to the grocery store shelves goes to waste in our country, and twice as much is wasted on the consumer level than it is at the retail level. We are throwing away a lot of the food we buy.

Why are we throwing away so much of the food we buy? The report sites several reasons.

  • Spillages, abrasion, bruising, excessive trimming, excessive or insufficient heat, inadequate storage, technical malfunction.
  • Sprouting of grains and tubers, biological aging in fruit
  • Consumers becoming confused over “use-by” and “best before” dates so that food is discarded while still 
safe to eat.
  • Lack of knowledge about preparation and appropriate portion sizes. For example, lack of consumer 
knowledge of when a papaya is ripe, how to prepare it, and how to use it as an ingredient are reasons for 
high papaya loss.
  • Industry or government standards may cause some products to be rejected for human consumption 
(e.g., plate waste can’t be re-used at restaurants).
  • Psychological tastes, attitudes, and preferences leading to plate waste/scrapings (e.g., human aversion, such 
as “I don’t eat that,” or refusal to eat a food for religious reasons). Consumer demand for high cosmetic 
  • Seasonal factors: more food is wasted in summer.
  • Uneaten or leftover holiday foods.

Take a look at that list. Some of it is hard to control. We all spill things from time to time. But, some of it is avoidable.

We have plenty of good advice here on MNN to help you avoid wasting the food that you bring into your home. If you want to stop wasting so much food, here are a few things you’ll want to check out.

We also have hundreds of recipes that tackle specific leftover foods.

Can you tell I like to use my leftovers up creatively? I’m not perfect at it. I do end up throwing some foods away, but if I can turn leftovers into something new, my family is much more likely to be enthusiastic about eating them.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

USDA Food waste report has plenty to say about consumer waste
A new report has some sobering statistics about how much food is wasted on the retail and consumer ends of the food chain.