Survey: Americans Don’t Know How Much Food They Waste


WASHINGTON, D.C.—By some estimates, up to half of all the food produced on the planet—about 2 billion tons—is wasted before it ever reaches a human stomach. Yet, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, many Americans are shockingly unaware of their own roles in contributing to the problem, a conclusion that should weigh heavily on our minds as we observe World Food Day on Oct. 16.

About one-third of Americans—30 percent—say that they “don’t create any food waste.” Of the remainder who admit that they do contribute to food waste, the top causes include forgetting about perishable food until it’s too late (19 percent), purchasing too much fresh or perishable food (17 percent), cooking big meals and throwing some of it away (8 percent), and not eating everything they put on their plate (7 percent).

However, the majority of Americans say they’re taking steps to reduce food waste. For example, more than half of Americans report that they taking leftovers home from restaurants (58 percent), using leftovers from cooking (53 percent), planning their meals (51 percent), and making shopping lists (51 percent), while 47 percent say they use or freeze leftovers in a timely manner.

The results come from the 2016 IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey. (Food waste results begin on page 80.)

“It’s highly unlikely that one-third of Americans play no role whatsoever in food waste,” said IFIC Foundation CEO Joseph Clayton. “On World Food Day, and every day, we all need to be mindful of the ways we contribute to food waste and what we can do about it.

“In developing countries, we can improve the farm-to-market process by encouraging upgrades to the storage and transportation of food. In developed countries, consumers are often confused by the various product date labels such as ‘sell by,’ ‘use by,’ ‘best before,’ ‘expires on,’ and others, so they throw out food that is still safe to eat. This presents an opportunity to help people understand what these labels mean,” Clayton said.

What Is Sustainability, and What Is It Worth?

Feeding a booming world population is a central goal of World Food Day, and 85 percent of Americans think it’s important to ensure that all people have access to healthy food. (The IFIC Foundation earlier this year produced a video about the challenges of feeding the world.)

Aside from reducing food waste, sustainability is seen as one of the ways to achieve that aim. While about three-quarters (73 percent) believe it’s important that food products be produced in a sustainable way, their definitions of sustainability are across the board.

These definitions of sustainability include conserving the natural habitat (44 percent), reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food (43 percent), ensuring an affordable food supply (37 percent), and ensuring a sufficient food supply for the growing global population (35 percent). Despite this interest in sustainability American are split on whether they would pay more for sustainable food and beverage products. Little more than one-third (38 percent) state they are willing to pay more for food and beverages that are produced sustainably.

When asked about the role of agriculture, 70 percent say that they see modern agriculture as having at least a small role in ensuring that all people have access to healthy food; nearly half (47 percent) agree that modern tools, equipment and technologies in agriculture are sustainable; and more than one in two Americans say that modern agriculture produces nutritious (56 percent), safe (53 percent), high-quality foods (51 percent).

The IFIC Foundation’s full 2016 Food & Health Survey findings and additional information are available on the Foundation’s website:

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The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation is dedicated to the mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, food safety and nutrition for the public good. The IFIC Foundation is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries. Visit