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Jun 8, 2010 12:02 PM

Food waste in USA

The recent Gladware ad claims that American households throw out $500 of food per year. I thought that sounded pretty extreme and checked it out. The best article I could find generally agreed with the claim.

Having recently cleaned and defrosted my fridge for the first time in 3 years and only finding the dregs of a ketchup bottle to throw out, I'm just wondering how much you think you throw out per year? Do you think inedible items such as banana peels should be included?

I guess I'm just a bit perplexed because my SO and I spend less than that a month on food.

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  1. Well, I would say that they include only edible items. If we throw anything out it may be because we defrosted something and then got a call from friends to go out for dinner and we may have plans the next night so the shrimp may go bad. Meats I hardly throw away, as I cook them pretty often, veggies tended to get thrown away more, but now I just go to the store more often and I don't buy veggies all at once.
    We spend less than the $500 a month on food, and we have made the effort not to waste anything, and we even track what we throw out. I would say we fall far below that average.

    We do have friends that don't eat leftovers, so when they have people over any food leftover gets thrown away, unless others want to take stuff home.

    7 Replies
    1. re: roro1831

      Friends that won't eat leftovers? That strikes me as bizarre. Sure, a few things are pretty awful as leftovers (fried clams come to mind) , but most foods reheat well or can be used in other recipes.

      I know only one person who won't eat leftovers, and she is mentally ill - seriously so, as in, if she stops taking her meds she gets locked up.

      1. re: BobB

        I find it strange myself, but they will not eat leftovers

        1. re: roro1831

          I usually don't either. Only rarely. Very very rarely.

          1. re: Missy2U

            Why is that Missy? If you do not mind sharing.

            1. re: Sal Vanilla

              Well, DH hates leftovers because he spent a decade working for a faith-based organisation and eating in their cafeteria where they got the same menu over and over and over again ad nauseum. There was no room in the budget for wastage, so any leftovers were forcibly recycled into tomorrow's meal whether they were really edible or not.

              I don't mind leftovers if the original food was any good, so I usually try to make enough for a LARGE serving for him the first time round, and enough leftovers for me to have the next day. If I miscalculate I'll have to eat them all week, and the last serve might end up in the trash because it took me too many days to get to it.

        2. re: BobB

          There are *lots* of people out there who do not eat leftovers as a general rule. None in my immediate family, but I've run across this among siblings' in laws and other places fairly regularly. I have to wire my mouth shut when I encounter this, lest I gape,cackle or weep too obviously.

          1. re: Karl S

            Seriously - my old neighbor was a fabulous cook (catered) and Italian - could not / would not eat leftovers. Even bread was pulverized into bread crumbs (God bless his soul) and given to me. It was truly a treat to come home to lovely, delicious pasta dishes. Did he throw them away? Absolutely not - he gave them to me. However, as I live alone I had to do that dirty deed after three days cuz' I couldn't eat it all and the pasta w/ sauce doesn't freeze well.

            I DID however freeze the bread crumbs and I miss him very much.

      2. I can believe the average is $500/year. I live alone, but throw out very little because I'm hyper organized in the kitchen and with my budget. I have a pretty good systems for freezing raw ingredients in usable portions. I also just started keeping a list of the freezer's contents on the fridge door - I check the list when I'm planning the menu for the week. Sometimes a recipe experiment flops and the food goes in the trash...

        I started following the blog about a year ago. I was already pretty careful not to waste stuff, but I'm learned a lot from the blog.

        1. I feel like $500/year on average for American households is probably right. Some households are going to waste a lot, others are going to be more careful.

          It comes out to around $1.37/day. So, if we're counting the last few bites of macaroni that get scraped off a plate and thrown out, this probably accounts for a little bit of change every day. Plus instances where one finds an unopened but expired yogurt, or a freezer burned roast, or forgotten leftovers from 2 weeks ago and opts to toss it all, these are larger value items that certainly add up over the course of a year.

          1. Have you read all the questions people routinely ask on here, stuff like, "I left eggs out on the counter for a day, do I need to toss them?" People think stuff goes bad way faster than it actually does, IMHO.

            Anyway, I pretty much never throw out food. I used to work in a restaurant and it made me feel terrible, how much good food got tossed just because people ordered too much. It's a shame to waste when so many people don't have enough food -- I treat it with respect, and feel incredibly lucky to be able to eat as well as I do.

            7 Replies
            1. re: visciole

              Exactly. The health department is pressured to play it safe beyond what was considered a reasonable threshold, and restaurants have to comply, and media reports these as standards. I think the era of conveniance foods led people to distrust their senses, in regard to perishability. The err on the side of caution approach to the pantry has sunk in deep in the US. Teaching myself to buck the three-to-five day law for leftovers, or the automatic refrigeration of items that *benefit* from the lack of it, is a little thrilling for me, like picking up my roots where that conveniance food generation interrupted.

              1. re: onceadaylily

                Probably a lot of those people who throw out leftovers after three days because of perceived risk are the same ones text-messaging while driving their cars....

                1. re: visciole


                  Bottom line--the human brain is very badly wired to properly evaluate risk, and bad decisions related to risk are the norm. This applies to just about every arena of human endeavor, and risks associated with food preparation, storage, and consumption are right up there. I am constantly amazed at the things people report here that they throw out in the name of "safety."

                  1. re: johnb

                    I know -- how do they think the human race has survived all this time if we could be felled by 3-day-old leftovers?

                    Also, these same people who throw out all sorts of stuff go right ahead and eat out all the time with no qualms. Personally I trust my own home-cooked food, even week-old leftovers, WAY more than I would trust a fast food burger.

                  2. re: visciole

                    I toss leftovers after three days (after getting severely sick by eating that item on the 4th day) and I don't text while driving. Sorry to burst your bubble Visciole.

                    1. re: JerryMe

                      It's beneficial to have my bubble burst from time to time.... keeps me honest!

                      Sorry you got sick, but at least you won't be getting into any traffic accidents ;)

                      1. re: visciole

                        I get sick several times by eating overdue date food. Last time I drank a 3 weeks past due day milk. Didn't feel anything strange until the next day morning.

                        I don't plan on changing it. I figure. It is building my immune system.

              2. well my bf and i are so busy that sometimes we dont have time but to grab a sandwich and i often have to dispose of steaks, whole chickens, a few gallons of milk and produce at a time. sounds reasonable. i hate that it is that way and im trying to manage our waste, but sometimes it's inevitable.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sarahlovessissac

                  Just don't over buy. I use to over buy milk and put myself in the situation of throwing them away. Now, I buy in small quantity. It is better for the environment and for your pocket.