However, we the people waste the most food. The average family of four wastes 25 percent of its purchased food. That's $1,365 to $2,275 we spend every year on food that winds up in the garbage. The USDA offers a more conservative estimate that each consumer spends $390 on wasted food. Whichever figure you believe, it's good money being funneled straight to landfills (oh, and the USDA also calculates that $2 billion of US taxpayer money is spent trucking food to landfills).
The most wasteful food category is fruits and vegetables, perhaps not surprisingly. Of all the fresh produce grown every year, just 48 percent is consumed. The other 52 percent is wasted. Seafood is another big loser: Fifty percent of it is wasted. Meat and milk fare slightly better, with 78 and 80 percent consumed, respectively.
Reducing that food waste by just 15 percent, the report concludes, could feed half of the 50 million Americans who go hungry every year.
While you can't help the farmer pick his crops (unless you visit pick-your-own farms) or change the mentality of grocery store owners, you can change your own habits. Here are the easiest ways to cut down on food waste at home.
• Shop wisely. Create menus for the week, incorporating leftovers and foods that might spoil if not used up, suggests Lois Killcoyne, RD, food-preservation expert with the Pennsylvania State University Extension program. Before going to the grocery store, take an inventory of what needs to be used up. You can buy other items around those to create a meal.
• Be savvy at the store. Some of the biggest problems at the consumer end, the report noted, are store promotions that encourage shoppers to buy greater amounts than they've planned to and specials on items shoppers don't really need. If you fall prey to these, you wind up buying more food than you can eat, and it spoils before you can finish it. And food wasted equals money wasted, so that "great deal" goes straight to the garbage. Stick to your list and don't stray from it, no matter how good a deal you see on perishable goods. If you don't want to run to the store every day for fresh ingredients, a good rule of thumb when buying produce is to buy one that's ripe, one that's medium ripe, and one that's green, to prevent a mass spoiling.