What a waste: United States sets goal to cut food losses in half by 2030

Story by Amy Beth Graves

The numbers are staggering. Every year about 133 billion pounds of food is lost or wasted in the United States. The amount of food wasted every year is enough to fill the largest U.S. building (Willis Tower in Chicago) 44 times. That translates into Americans throwing away the equivalent of $165 billion each year or about $1,500 for the average family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Food waste happens from farm to fork. Food may go unharvested, be overproduced, wasted through trimming, lost because of its perishable nature (produce, baked goods, meat, seafood and ready-made foods) or passed over simply because it has blemishes. Larger food portions have resulted in more waste in restaurants. Because expiration labels are confusing, consumers are throwing out food before it has spoiled. Studies show American families may toss up to 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy every year. Meanwhile, 1 in 7 Americans struggle to get enough to eat.

The U.S. government is determined to turn this wasteful trend around. It has issued a challenge for Americans to reduce the amount of food waste by 50 percent by 2030. A lengthy report recently issued by ReFED, a coalition of business, public health and environmental groups, details 27 ways American families, farmers, businesses and the government can reduce food losses such as eliminating sell-by dates, reducing portions, adjusting packaging and increasing consumer education (see ReFED.com for more details).

spoiler alert

Getting to that 50 percent reduction will take time and require a commitment across the entire food supply chain. But as the Environmental Protection Agency says: “Let’s feed people, not landfills.”

Ways to reduce your food waste

Rotate food: Move older items in the cupboard or fridge to the front.

Repurpose: Give leftovers a makeover (check out lovefoodhatewaste.com for recipe ideas). Blend overripe fruit into a smoothie. Freeze extra food.

Shop wisely: Plan meals, make a grocery list and avoid impulse buys. Don’t succumb to marketing tricks that make you buy more food than you need.

Buy imperfect produce: Many fruits and vegetables are tossed simply because their size, shape or color are not perfect.

Smaller portions: Ask restaurants for half portions (at a reduced price) or go “halfsies” with someone.

Compost: Compost food scraps and waste for use on your lawn or garden. Don’t have a yard? Check with your municipality for composting options.

Donate: Many food banks and shelters will accept food donations.

date of expiry canned food close up: letters and numbers of date of best before on silver colored metal aluminium can, tin upside down,

Deciphering product dates

  • Sell By: Tells the store how long to display the product. Purchase it before the date expires. The food is still good after purchase.
  • Best if Used By & Best Before: This is not a purchase or safety date – it is recommended for best flavor or quality.
  • Use By: The last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality. The food manufacturer sets this date.
  • Closed or Coded Dates: Packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

See an Ohio State University Extension Chow Line article on this topic.