About The Buzz: Americans Significantly Underestimate How Much Food They Waste?

TheBUZZ Americans Significantly Underestimate How Much Food They Waste?


A recent report showed that the United States wastes nearly 40% of its post-harvest food supply, most of which is generated at the consumer level. However, Americans severely underestimate how much food they waste, which may pose a barrier to reducing the amount of wasted food generated each year.


After the report, published by the National Resources Defense Council, showed that a huge proportion (nearly 40%) of harvested food goes to waste, Johns Hopkins University decided to investigate how Americans perceive the issue of wasted food.1,2 They created a survey to evaluate consumers’ awareness, attitudes and behaviors to help determine how we can, as a nation, begin to waste less food.

First and foremost, they needed to take stock of awareness: do people know how much food is wasted annually in the US? Most did (42% of people in the study), indicating that they had seen or heard information about wasted food, and 16% had actually sought out information about reducing it. Nearly half of those in the study were also familiar with the “40% of post-harvested food in the US goes to waste” statistic. Awesome!

Next, participants were asked to estimate how much food they themselves waste. Most people were pretty optimistic: 13% said that they did not waste any food and 56% said that they only waste 10% of the food they purchase. After that, participants were asked to compare the amount of food they waste to that of others, and a whopping 73% said that they waste less than the average American household (not likely!). However, most people felt that they could avoid wasting as much food as they do. Of foods wasted, fruits and vegetables ranked first, followed by homemade meals, bread, meat, milk and packaged foods. The top reason why people waste food is because they worry about food poisoning. The other top reason is a desire to eat only the freshest foods.

Most people feel bothered by wasting food (over half), because doing so means wasting not just food, but money. Financial concerns were the number one concern associated with wasting food, followed by wanting to set a good example for children.

Armed with this information, the researchers then asked participants for suggestions of possible changes that retailers could make to help reduce the household issue of discarding food. The most popular suggestions were:

  • More resealable packages
  • Increased variety in product sizes
  • “Buy one, get one later” sales, and
  • Discounting foods that are over-ripe or near expiration


In order to reduce your household food waste, it’s really important to understand exactly how much food goes to waste. For a week or two, keep a log of foods that get thrown away, taking note of the type and the quantity (two heads of broccoli, three apples, a package of cheese, a brown banana, etc.). Once you’ve taken an initial assessment of what gets wasted, it will be easier to modify your grocery store purchasing habits to limit what goes into the trash can. If you’re throwing away half of your fruit, for example, try buying a combination of fresh (which is perishable) and use more canned, frozen, or dried fruit that will store longer, and so on.

Another great way to reduce household food waste is to have a good understanding of how long foods last. Even if a food is nearing its expiration date (and might not be as visually appealing as when you purchased it), it is still safe to eat. As long as your food is free of mold, slime, foul odors, it’s good to go! Browning and softening are inevitable, and food shouldn’t be thrown away if this happens.


Reducing the amount of wasted food in the US may improve food security, nutrition, budgets, the environment and public health. You can increase your family’s intake of fruits, veggies and other fresh foods while reducing your grocery bill if less food you purchase ends up in the trash can.

Check out our Fruit and Vegetable Storage 101 for information on food storage tips to enable the longest possible shelf life food your fruits and vegetables.


1 Gunders, D. (2012). “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” The Natural Resources Defense Council. View

2 Neff, RA, Spiker, ML, Truant PL (2015). “Wasted Food: US Consumers’ Reported Awareness, Attitudes, and Behaviors.” PLoS One, 10(6). View

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