ON average, Americans trashed an estimated 133 billion lb. out of the 430 billion lb. of edible and available food in 2010 (Figure 1), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS).
Breaking it down, the total equates to 429 lb. of food per person that was not consumed post-harvest for reasons such as cooking loss, natural shrinkage, leaving food on the plate or loss from mold, pests or improper climate control.
As the total illustrates, annual food loss in the U.S. is quite significant.
In recent years, awareness of food loss has risen as the focus has turned to how to feed a growing world population.
Moreover, unconsumed food means wasting money and valuable resources, including land, water, labor, energy and other inputs necessary for food production.
The post-harvest food loss for the U.S. would have been even greater than the estimated 31% if losses on the farm and between the farm and retailer were calculated, but data limitations made it difficult for USDA to quantify those.
Taking the economic loss into consideration, USDA calculated $161.6 billion as the total value of food loss at the consumer and retail levels.
ERS gauged the 2010 per capita food loss to be $522 per year at retail prices, which is 9.2% of the average dollar value spent on food per consumer and 1% of the average disposable income.
For the first time, the agency computed the number of calories of U.S. food loss at both the consumer and retail levels. For 2010, ERS found that 141 trillion calories per year, or 387 billion calories per day, were not consumed. On average, each American's food loss represented 1,249 calories out of the 3,796 calories available per capita per day (Figure 2).
Looking closely at the data, dairy, vegetable and grain products were the three food groups that saw the greatest waste, with more than 25 billion lb. of dairy and vegetable products and 18.5 billion lb. of grain products wasted in 2010.
At the consumer level, the per capita food supply not consumed equaled 59 lb. of vegetables, 52 lb. of dairy products and 41 lb. of meat, poultry and fish.
Meat, poultry and fish represented the highest value loss, at $48.5 billion, whereas vegetables came in at a close second for value, at $30 billion.
The calorie shares of food loss for added fats and oils, added sugar and sweeteners and grain products were much higher, which varied from the leading food groups by value or amount. The daily food loss included 187 calories of added sugar and sweeteners, 166 calories of grain products and 154 calories of fats and oils.
The report notes that the Environmental Protection Agency developed a food recovery hierarchy that begins with limiting the production of food waste at the source.
Next, EPA recommends preserving wholesome unwanted food to feed people who are food insecure. From there, food waste should be repurposed into feed for animals, recycled for industrial use or composted to improve soil fertility. These steps would all help conserve resources and reduce food waste disposal costs, according to EPA.