A new report from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) highlights that in 2010, 31 per cent, or 133 billion pounds (5.9 million tonnes), of food available for consumption at the retail and consumer levels in the United States went uneaten.
Two-thirds of this loss occurred in homes, restaurants and other away-from-home eating places, and one-third occurred in grocery stores and other food retailers.
The researchers broke down the losses by food group and between the retail and consumer levels.
Of the animal protein food groups, overall losses of dairy foods were highest in volume at 83 billion pounds. This total breaks down as 53.8 billion pounds of liquid milk and 29.1 billion pounds of other dairy products.
The 'meat, poultry and fish' figure was 58.4 billion pounds, comprising losses of meat, poultry meat and fish & shellfish at 31.6, 22.0 and 4.8 billion pounds, respectively. In the same year, 8.4 billion pounds of eggs were lost in the US.
Compared to other food groups, the proportion of these losses at retails level is fairly low, ranging from four per cent for meat and poultry to liquid milk and other dairy products at 12 and 11 per cent, respectively.
On the percentage of losses for these animal proteins incurred by consumers, the lowest was 18 per cent for poultry meat, between 20 and 23 per cent for milk, dairy products, eggs and other meats, and highest at 31 per cent for fish & seafood.
The report also looks at both the value and calories represented by the waste of the different food groups and these tell a different story, as shown in the figure below.
For example, on the basis of total value, the 'meat, poultry & fish' group comprises 30 per cent of the total, compared to 12 per cent by weight, which the authors attribute to their higher cost per unit weight. Vegetables and dairy products come in second and third in terms of share of total value.
However, the top three food groups in terms of shares of total calories uneaten were quite different. The proportions of added fats & oils, added sugars & sweeteners, and grains were much higher in terms of calories, reflecting the higher caloric density in these foods.
The authors suggest potential strategies to reduce food losses, including improvements in food packaging, more efficient inventory management in grocery stores and restaurants, and having consumer education campaigns.
The report, entitled 'Food Loss - Questions About the Amount and Causes Still Remain' is by Jean C. Buzby, Hodan Farah Wells and Jaspreet Aulakh and published by the USDA Economic Research Service in 'Amber Waves' in June 2014.