Taking Inventory: Supermarket Waste

After years of silence on the topic of food waste, our federal government has released a study on the topic. The Economic Research Service (ERS), the research wing of the Deptartment of Agriculture, has kicked in with a study on supermarket food loss (view the full report here).

The long-anticipated (at least in these quarters) report provides supermarket loss estimates for each individual fruit and vegetable, in addition to types of meat, poultry and seafood. Before, the USDA simply estimated a 7 percent loss rate for all fruits and vegetables and 12 percent for meats, poultry and seafood.

As we see in the summary of findings, the range of loss varies greatly. If one the most wasted food in US supermarkets--mustard greens. photo by rachel is coconut&lime generalization can be made, it’s that unusual items are wasted the most. Based on an average of two years’ data, we learn that 64 percent of mustard greens and 55 percent of papayas are squandered. In a meatier topic, 25 percent of veal and 12 percent of lamb/goat aren’t used.

On the brighter side, only 4 percent of chicken and beef and less than 1 percent of corn is wasted. King Corn, indeed.

This ERS study reminds us how much more research is needed, because it only has findings from one portion of one segment of the food chain. The authors note that the study omits data from “megastores, club stores, mom-and-pop grocery stores, or convenience stores.”

Still, it brings us one step closer to having an accurate idea on the amount of food we waste.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted March 26, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    That is a lot of wasted food! Please inform us when new research stats are ready.

  2. Amy
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I found your blog from a link on Less Is Enough. Fascinating info here.

  3. Posted March 27, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Jon,
    I just started reading this thing, and will continue with it today. From what I can tell, it’s just a big deal that the USDA is acknowledging food waste as part of our food system, and as having an impact on the overall food supply.

    One thing that I found interesting is the introduction, “These data are not collected from individual consumers, and thus provide an independent basis for examining food consumption trends.” While point of sale data has a cold mathematical reality to it, they earlier state that they are comparing the point of sale data to the supplier shipment data in order to determine the amount of waste. That data set does not necessarily include inventory loss at the supplier’s level (which for our local Maine’s warehouse, in the produce department alone, is over six tons this month). Without the warehouse waste data, and with no faith in the accuracy of consumer waste data, it’s hard to make larger determinations about general food waste. Nonetheless, I plan to present this report to my local supermarkets and see how useful they find it.
    Peace and Love,
    Dan

  4. Molly
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Just tried to check out the report — website is down!! I guess the USDA didn’t anticipate the high level of interest & resulting internet traffic.

  5. ralph parks
    Posted November 26, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Thawing frozen meat for display purposes is a gross waste and a lose lose for grocery stores,the ecology and ccosumers.Why is it allowed? (save the fish first)

One Trackback

  1. [...] The latest report, released in March 2009, provides data for the years 2005-06. But the information is woefully incomplete. The study omits data from “megastores, club stores, mom-and-pop grocery stores or convenience stores.” [...]

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