Food News

You’ll Be Shocked by How Much Food Americans Waste Each Year

These numbers are a little hard to stomach, which is probably a good thing.

September 26, 2019

Every year of my 20s, I’ve made some version of a resolution to limit food waste, whether that means shopping more carefully or finally becoming a meal prep person.

I’ve had some success, but I still end up throwing away more food than I'd hope to—whether it’s fresh fruit that I didn’t get to in time, vegetables that I put away in the crisper and barely looked at ever again, or, of course, leftovers that never again saw the light of day.

Suffice it to say that although I feel extremely bad for wasting food, I’m not the best at curbing the habit. And as it turns out, many others in the rest of the country have the same problem, too.

In fact, the average American ends up throwing away a full 103 pounds of spoiled food each year, according to a recent survey of 2,000 people conducted by OnePoll for Bosch home appliances. That works out to an average of 4 items a week, or the weekly equivalent of $53.81. All told, per the survey results, the average American adult will waste 6,180 pounds of food in their lifetime.

The most common victim of our combined over-shopping and under-planning is fresh produce, especially bananas (of those surveyed, 55 percent say this is their number one wasted food) and strawberries (50 percent of survey responders let these sweet, seedy friends languish). Then there’s milk (46 percent), leafy green vegetables (44 percent), and meat (43 percent) and yogurt (42 percent).

Over the course of a year, that means we’re throwing out an average of $2,798 worth of food. Ouch.

For the majority of people, food waste occurs because of a lack of fridge organization, leading many of us to forget what’s in there, not to mention lose track of expiration dates. In fact, 52 percent of those surveyed said that the most common reason they wasted food was because it spoiled before they had a chance to finish it. 71 percent said they wished their refrigerator were capable of keeping food fresher, for longer.

What’s more, a decent portion of the population appears to be willing to make some sacrifices for longer-lasting groceries—from giving up coffee forever to swearing off sweets. One in five responders even said they’d be willing to take a pay cut—to the tune of $10,000—if it meant their produce would never go bad.

While I’m not ready to make that big of a commitment, I am newly re-committed to saving myself some $3,000 a year by being a better fridge organizer—and maybe never buying another bunch of bananas for the foreseeable future.

What are some strategies you rely on to reduce your food waste? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Carla Fisher
    Carla Fisher
Karen Lo

Written by: Karen Lo

lunch lady


ZIPPY September 27, 2019
Since the crisper was the main site of my food waste, I've largely switched from fresh to frozen veggies, I keep a 'table of contents' on the front of the fridge, I have regular fridge cleanout days and have found that almost any leftover can be made into soup.
Carla F. September 26, 2019
I use the bulk section to only buy what I will use. That's made a huge difference. Also being aware of eating something because it needs to be eaten, instead of making something new just because I'm tired of leftovers. My biggest issue with food waste is getting lured by the siren song of a new recipe that calls for a minute quantity of some ingredient I'll never use again. I try to deal with that by going online to find other recipes that use that ingredient, but I still get caught on occasion. (You would be amazed at what can be made into ice cream.)