Reducing Food Waste for Consumers Back »

Written by Joan Hegerfeld-Baker (former SDSU Extension Food Safety Specialist).

The term “food waste” has become more popular in the press, however it is not necessarily a new term. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations identified food losses within its mandate when established in 1945 [1]. The scope of food loss and waste continues to be a priority for the FAO as well as many other organizations, government agencies, and the private sector. It is difficult to get an accurate estimate on the amount of food loss or waste, particularly on a global scale. Differences do exist between developing and industrialized nations. For example, the waste of perishable foods is greater among industrialized countries at the retail, food service and consumer level. While developing countries are estimated to have a greater loss of food at the production level of the food supply chain [1]. The publication “Global Food Losses and Food Waste” produced by the Sweedish Institute for Food and Food Biotechnology for the FAO provides a report of several studies conducted from August 2010 to January 2011. This report identifies that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally [2]. The complete report can be obtained by visiting the FAO website and searching for the publications title.

Consider the fact that the U.S. is an industrialized nation, we experience a greater level of food loss by consumers than developing countries [1]. The Economic Research Service U.S. Department of Agriculture reported: “in the United States 31% -- or 133 billion pounds – of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. The estimated value of this food loss was $161.6 billion using retail prices [3].”

How do we reduce waste?

The consumption level of the food supply chain has several options to decrease the food waste while also eating healthier. A wide range of activities to keep food out of the landfill were cited in a recent USDA news release [4]:

  • Reduce waste in the school meals program.
  • Educate consumers about food waste and food storage.
  • Develop new technologies to reduce food waste.
  • Work with industry to increase donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards.
  • Streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products.
  • Update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level.
  • Pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.

Tips for the home

The above examples refer to broader government initiatives. In the home several practices can be easily implemented to reduce food waste.

  • Read package storage labels. Refer to the iGrow article Food Product Dates written by Lavonne Meyer (former SDSU Extension Food Safety Field Specialist).
  • Use meal planning to save money and reduce waste. The iGrow article Meal Planning by Ann Schwader provides several resources for families.

Reducing food waste and loss is the responsibility of everyone. Be informed and incorporate practices that reduce food loss at all levels of the food supply chain.


  1. Parfitt, J., Barthel, M., Macnaughton, S. 2010. Food waste within food supply chains: quantification and potential for change to 2050. Philosophical Transaction of The Royal Society Biological Sciences. Published August 16, 2010, p. 365
  2. Gustavsson, J., Cederberg, J., Sonesson, U., Otterdijk, R., Meybeck. 2011. Global food losses and food waste. Published by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed on May 19, 2014.
  3. Buzby, J.C., Wells H.F., Human J. 2014. The estimated amount, value, and calories of postharvest food losses a the retail and consumer levels in the U.S. Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-121) 39 pp, February 2014. Accessed on May 19, 2014.
  4. USDA. 2013. USDA and EPA launch food waste challenge. News Release No. 0112.13. June 4, 2013.
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