Here’s the Shocking Reason Why Americans Trash $160 Billion in Food a Year

food waste in america
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Filed under depressing statistics: Americans wasted more than $160 billion worth of food — or 133 billion pounds of it — in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Yes, both of those figures are billion, with a “b.”

What’s worse? The results of a new survey-based study released in scientific journal PLOS ONE reveal most of us know it’s a problem… but feel powerless to do anything to stop it.

Is Food Waste in America Inevitable?

The survey, conducted by market research firm SSRS, questioned 500 people selected to be representative of national demographics.

The findings were somewhat disappointing — and baffling.

Although almost 77.2% of respondents reported feeling guilty for throwing away food, more than half (51.2%) agreed that “it would be difficult to reduce household waste further.”

Why? Well, we just have so many other things to do: Almost a full quarter of participants said they “don’t have enough time to worry about the amount of food wasted.”

That’s surprising. You’d think, given the astronomical total mentioned above, that money might motivate us to make time to correct food wastage…

… but less than half of respondents thought that “throwing away food is a major source of wasted money.”


How to Reduce Food Waste in Your Own Home

If this survey does present an accurate representation, many Americans are clearly more than a little disconnected from reality.

Food waste in America is a huge problem, and not just because of personal financial drain.

It also has steep environmental consequences, since food production is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions — to say nothing of the fact that millions of people don’t have access to the food we’re simply throwing away.

Luckily, there are lots of ways around this problem — and they don’t take up much of your time.

A big one? Don’t be a slave to sales.

Although buying in bulk can save you a ton of money, it’s still a waste if you end up throwing it away. According to the survey, 52.9% of us waste more food when we buy it in large packages or at sales.

Another thing: Stop religiously following expiration dates.

Almost 70% of survey respondents agreed that throwing away food that’s past its expiration date reduces the chances of someone becoming ill after eating it.

But here’s the big secret: In lots of cases, that’s simply not true. Here’s our full guide to what sell-by dates mean for food safety — and when you should, and shouldn’t, ignore them.

Finally, choose and store your food appropriately to ensure the longest possible shelf life for fresh items.

According to the USDA, the top three food groups contributing to waste totals were meat, poultry, and fish (30%, $48 billion); vegetables (19%, $30 billion); and dairy products (17%, $27 billion).

Obviously, sell-by dates and freshness matter very much for fresh items like these. That’s why we have posts on how to store your groceries to keep them good long enough to eat them — and how to choose the best possible produce in the first place.

There, that didn’t take very long at all, did it?

Your Turn: How will you help stop food waste in America?

Jamie Cattanach is a writer whose work has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

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