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Americans are wasting nearly a third of all food in their homes

Researchers say this translates to hundreds of billions of dollars per year

Photo (c) Rimma_Bondarenko - Getty Images
Many consumers are making conscious efforts to reduce their food waste, which oftentimes requires a careful reading and understanding of food labels

However, researchers from Penn State have found that despite these sustainability efforts, food waste is still running rampant across the United States, with consumers throwing away nearly one-third of all food in their homes. 

“Our findings are consistent with previous studies, which have shown that that 30 percent and 40 percent of the total food supply in the United States goes uneaten -- and that means that resources used to produce the uneaten food, including land, energy, water, and labor, are wasted as well,” said researcher Edward Jaenicke. 

“But this study is the first to identify and analyze the level of food waste for individual households, which has been nearly impossible to estimate because comprehensive, current data on uneaten food at the household level do not exist.” 

The food waste epidemic

The researchers analyzed 4,000 responses to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Household Food Acquisition Survey. 

Because respondents to the survey are required to provide information like height, weight, gender, and age, the researchers could use these factors to most accurately assess food waste. Participants reported on the food they were getting and throwing away, and the researchers were able to calculate the waste by determining how much food the participants’ bodies physically required. 

While food waste was occurring in nearly 32 percent of all participants’ homes, the researchers learned that some participants were more likely to waste than others. 

For example, proximity to the grocery store was a factor in food waste, as those who had a further commute back and forth to the store were less likely to waste food. Conversely, households following specific, oftentimes healthy, diets were throwing away more food, most likely because the shelf life of fruits and vegetables isn’t very long. 

“More than two-thirds of households in our study have food-waste estimates of between 20 percent and 50 percent,” Jaenicke said. “However, even the least wasteful households waste 8.7 percent of the food it acquires.” 

Plan before you shop

According to Jaenicke, planning before going to the grocery store is essential, as those who went grocery shopping with a list were also less likely to waste food. 

“This suggests that planning and food management are factors that influence the amount of wasted food,” said Jaenicke. 

The researchers hope that these findings can inspire further work in this area, as knowing what leads consumers to waste food can hopefully help put plans in place to reduce such waste. 

“While the precise measurement of food waste is important, it may be equally important to investigate further how household-specific factors influence how much food is wasted,” said Jaenicke. “We hope our methodology provides a new lens through which to analyze individual household food waste.” 

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