New Research Finds U.S. Households Throw Out Nearly a Third of the Food They Buy—Learn How You Can Waste Less

Kelly Vaughan

A groundbreaking new study from researchers at Penn State University found that the average U.S. household wastes approximately one-third of the food they acquire each year. Economists estimate that the value of food waste is nearly $240 billion; when divided among 128.6 million households, each wastes about $1,866 each year.

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While previous studies understood that approximately 30-40 percent of the total food supply in the United States went uneaten, there was little to no research on how that number broke down per household. "That means that resources used to produce the uneaten food, including land, energy, water, and labor, are wasted as well," Edward Jaenicke, professor of agricultural economics, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State, told ScienceDaily.

Related: Why Food Waste Is a Real Problem—And How You Can Help Fight It

Jaenicke and his team analyzed data from 4,000 households that participated in a food acquisition study, including biological measures of the participants. They found that households with a higher income level, healthier diets, and/or fewer family members wasted the most food. Because fresh fruits and vegetables are more perishable than other kinds of food, "it's possible that programs encouraging healthy diets may unintentionally lead to more waste," Jaenicke said.

On the other hand, households with food insecurity—especially those that participate in the federal SNAP food assistance program—and larger households were less likely to waste food. And those shoppers who created a list before heading to the grocery store were also found to have wasted less overall.

So, how can you work to curb food waste in your own home? Try cooking with what you have, rather than buying ingredients for a very specific recipe. Purchase "ugly produce" from companies like Misfits Market, which is often significantly cheaper than produce found in grocery stores, but offers the same flavor and nutritional value as picture-perfect produce. You can also freeze perishable ingredients such as cheese, bread, and fruit whenever possible, and always create a list before heading to the store.