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Feb 25, 2014 10:40 AM

Waste not want not....................Amount of food wasted in the U.S.

I just heard this statistic on CNBC and found it to be alarming, I looked on their website but can't find the piece they aired. I did a quick google search and found this article which although dated, seems to support what I heard. For 2010 in the United States 31% of food available for consumption went to waste.

You can read the article and read the explanation of this but I couldn't believe my ears when I heard that, I never expected the number to be nearly that high. If 1/3 of our food is wasted how can't we find a solution to hunger? Wow............

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  1. Here's the link to the video:

    Most of the report is on the current spike in food prices; the 2010 stat is buried, without explanation, at the end of the brief report.

    More detail here:

    3 Replies
    1. re: mcsheridan

      Hahahahaha exactly the first thing that caught my ear was the 18% rise in the cost of bacon! lol So I was half listening when they mentioned the amount of waste. I couldn't find the video on their site when I looked but when I Googled it I found my article which supports the stat. Truly amazing to me, thanks for finding the source video and additional detail.

      1. re: mcsheridan

        RT (formerly Russia Today) loves to pick on the US.

        1. re: mcsheridan

          The CNBC report is superficial. You shouldn't expect any explanation from this source The details are in the USDA report.

        2. Id bet its higher then that. Do you see the boxes of food that gets picked out everything day at stores of things that don't sell.

          Stores that bring in 7.99 a piece mangos...I don't understand do they really sell enough to be worth it. When they know they only have days left why don't they put them on sale! You know there are just going in the compost.

          I have a friend who worked in the deli and told me about all the pre made pizzas and take home dishes that get thrown out... its bad.

          In the next 10 yrs we are going to get a reality check.

          2 Replies
          1. re: daislander

            What bothers you more - that the deli used supplies and manpower to make food that they couldn't sell, or that this food goes into a dumpster instead of someone's stomach?

            It appears from previous threads on the topic, that food has an intrinsic value that goes beyond the cost of production. Do we worry about waste and underutilization of other things?

            1. re: daislander

              Sometimes produce does get marked down. If you go to the market every day and pay attention, you might see it. But for most produce, the culling is a continuous process of removing the least attractive pieces to make room for new stock. Take tomatoes, for example. Every day they want a full display of tomatoes which are good enough to sell. So every morning they remove the worst, rearrange the display, and add newer tomatoes. This model doesn't lend itself to sales, because they would need a permanent display of "fresh" tomatoes and "not-so-fresh" tomatoes. This would take more room and more trouble to manage, and the old tomatoes still would be passed up by most shoppers.

              I don't know what you mean by "reality check." What do you think is going to happen in ten years?

            2. What's the connection between food waste and hunger?

              Say I buy a cucumber, and toss the uneaten half a week later because it is starting mold. What does that have to do with a unknown neighbor who is barely getting by on food stamps?

              8 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                If you made a better effort to identify the food you wouldn't finish you could pack it up and take it to a food bank.

                1. re: smoledman

                  I don't think a food bank will accept a half eaten cucumber.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Perhaps the store that sold you the cucumber could have offered you a smaller portion? Might work with cucumbers; they last pretty well, refrigerated, after being sliced. Probably won't work with many other products.

                    It is definitely a very tricky problem, and solving it would require rework all the way from the supply chain down, with extensive consumer education. It's not going to happen until we start hitting widespread shortages.

                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                      Wouldn't that kind of customization create more waste? Now coming to WF, half size organic English cucumbers! More product lines to grow, ship, arrange in neat piles (and toss the ones that don't meet consumer expectations).

                      I gave this as an example that occasionally happens. I'm a careful enough shopped that I don't have to toss much food. But I have little idea of how much produce gets tossed at the store (or earlier) just to give me a good selection of pretty looking, sound cucumbers and bell peppers (red, green, yellow and orange).

                      On the plus side I prefer to buy the 'seedless' varieties, so I don't have to scrape out and waste the seeds!

                      1. re: paulj

                        I was thinking they could slice them in half, wrap them in cellophane, and sell you just half of one. They do it with watermelon and other larger stuff... Why not cucumbers?

                        We try to shop carefully but it can be tough, especially with pantry items. Something we need will be on sale so we'll buy two. And that second can or box might get misplaced and sit somewhere at the back for four years until it's way, way, way beyond the date on the can. I know those dates aren't super meaningful but sometimes it's a tough leap, psychologically. Recently I discovered and threw out a few cans with sell by dates of 2010. I know I should have opened them and used my nose, but ... Four years!

                        We also regularly have problems with herbs and/or smaller quantities of leftover food from meals. Herbs, you buy a bunch of parsley or something and only need a handful for a recipe. The rest often ends up forgotten, rotting in the crisper.

                        And as for leftovers, there may be a cup of something random from dinner, not really enough to do anything with. Oops, I forgot to eat it for lunch the next day, and now it's in the fridge and it gets joined by a few friends until I'm browsing the refrigerator one day and realize that we have like two pounds of junk to toss... Which *might* be okay to eat but it seems kind of gross to dig in to a week-old bowl of mac and cheese.

                2. re: paulj

                  Paulj, I'm just responding to your example, I'm not trying to be critical or oppose your point of view, I'm just giving you my side of your example. Actually my wife is exactly like you, my wife might buy a cucumber for a specific purpose (did you really have to choose a cucumber for an example? geeze how many cucumber dishes are there?) whatever that purpose is, use half of it then just leave it to rot in the fridge and have no problem tossing it after a week.

                  That drives me crazy! At least once a week I do the "fridge clean up meal" where I find the "scap" ingredients we have sitting around and I make a dish out of it. You have no idea how many different things I've stuffed a chicken with.

                  A couple recent examples; I made Chateaubriand for Valentines Day. I made the entire tenderloin (we had 8 people over for dinner) and I had about 4-5 portions of filet mignon left over. My wife had 2 containers of sour cream in the fridge sitting from the Super Bowl that she used for dips, one was open one wasn't but both were due to expire. It was driving me nuts, so I took the Filet Mignon left overs and made beef stronganoff, just to use the sour cream.

                  Another quick example, she had cooked pork roll and bacon left over from a big breakfast I cooked. It wouldn't be a problem if she just threw it out, but seeing it in there is like a challenge for me to salvage it. So I make pork roll, bacon mac and cheese as a side for dinner one night. (This was actually friggin awesome, chop it up and mix it in!!)

                  So I'm very conscious about waste in my home, and do the best I can to make sure what we bring in get's consumed. I'm also the guy that eats all the gross new flavored potato chips, salsa's and crap she buys but the kids hate. Just leave it there........I'll eat it. (and I wonder why I'm over 300lbs).

                  1. re: jrvedivici

                    "fridge clean up meal"

                    We call that "doing a Royko" after the column "Bran New Diet" by Mike Royko, which can be found in his collection "Like I Was Sayin'." You'd like it, I expect.

                  2. re: paulj

                    Exactly. The solution to hunger will not be found in redistributing table scraps, but elsewhere.

                  3. It does seem high, but the components need to be considered individually to understan it. For example, they include cooking losses. So if half the weight of bacon is fat, and most of that is discarded after cooking, that's nearly 50% "waste." Even so, I'm not going to start eating all the bacon fat. I don't use much bacon, so it's a minor part of my personal waste figure. A lot of cooking waste is just water. Have you ever made apple butter? The weight loss is tremendous. Is that waste?

                    One component I do find surprising is wasted eggs at the consumer level (about one-fifth). I rarely lose a single egg. Are they counting the discarded shells as waste?

                    One way that consumers can reduce waste is by changing their shopping habits. I went to the supermarket early one day, which is when the fresh produce is culled. I mentioned that I thought the discarded produce looked pretty good and was told that shoppers would pass it up anyway for the best-looking stuff. True. I'll bet even people who try to minimize waste at home do this. If you want to help reduce wasted food, you should pick the worst looking fruit and vegetables, before it gets culled. Look for dairy products with the nearest expiration date. How many shoppers will do that?

                    This where economics figures in. In order to reduce waste of culled produce, you would need a system to collect it and distribute it to the needy and to public institutions such as schools and hospitals on a large scale and in a timely manner. Could that be done economically?

                    I think it would be better to reduce the number of needy people than to build a system for distributing food to the needy more efficiently as part of a waste reduction program, but that gets into areas beyond the scope of Chowhound.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: GH1618

                      If you've ever seen plots of how much calories USA consumers get from various food groups, they are probably based on USDA ERS data series. The basic methodology is to get production data from growers and manufactures, and adjust that by estimates of 'wastage'. To give a reasonable estimate of calories that adjustment has to take into account things that consumers throw away, things like egg shells and bones.


                      The OP article has this paragraph:
                      "Some food loss is inevitable because shrinkage is a natural process in cooking, food is inherently perishable, and some losses—like the discard of opened food containers and moldy fruit at the supermarket—are necessary to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply. Likewise at restaurants, plate scraps not taken home by patrons are appropriately discarded as a health consideration. The costs and resources used to recover and transport wholesome food must also be considered when developing cost-effective ways to reduce food waste"

                      1. re: GH1618

                        If your supermarket does not already donate their culled produce to the local food pantry, you should encourage them to do so.

                      2. This subject reminds me of one of my pet peeves at the supermarket — shoppers who spend an inordinate amount of time picking through the produce to get the best pieces. Most recently it was a guy who took more than ten minutes to choose a few bulk carrots. They were probably going in a pot roast. It doesn't matter what they look like!

                        The most extreme example (believe it or not) was a woman individually selecting her green beans.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: GH1618

                          A while back I watched a man spend a good solid 3 or 4 minutes selecting 7 Brussels sprouts. Not 6, not 8, 7, with each one being examined from all angles and about half of them being rejected. I bought them the same day-they were all lovely. I'm not quite sure what his selection criteria were but the whole thing was Serious Business.

                          1. re: ErnieD

                            I do that. Know why? Because I don't want to waste food. If I need 7 brussels sprouts, I buy 7 brussels sprouts. That way I don't end up throwing any of them away. (See thread topic!)

                            And I also try to buy vegetables of uniform size, so that they cook evenly. So yep, that's me, carefully going though the okra or the potatoes or the mushrooms, being selective. I'll happily move to the side if you need room, but I'm not going to change my ways.

                          2. re: GH1618

                            I work for a local produce distributor. We recently changed from a pick-it-out-yourself, farmer's market type model to having everything preboxed and delivered to your door.

                            We lost SO many customers because they wanted to be able to pick it out themselves. And of course, these were the people who were holding up the line, digging through the heirloom tomatoes to find the ones with no splits in them (and then complaining if there weren't any).

                            Then there are the folks who complain about a superficial blemish on a winter squash. A winter squash, whose outsides are not consumed....

                            1. re: Kontxesi

                              "Distributor" does not imply retail to me. Wholesale produce is sold by the case. I expect most people will always prefer to select their retail produce themselves.

                            2. re: GH1618

                              My mom taught me to individually select items such as beans... because we shopped only weekly, and wanted our produce to be as unblemished as possible to extend storage life. I still, 40 years later, prefer to individually select vegetables whenever practical.