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Unwrapping America's Alarming Food Waste Trends

Big families mean big meals and unfortunately, a very low percentage of those families will finish all of their prepared food and will throw out tons of leftovers. However, this issue isn’t exclusive to holidays as a recent study shows that households are wasting almost a full meal every day.

Gage Edwards

December 5, 2023

3 Min Read
Full Homemade Thanksgiving Dinner with Turkey Stuffing Veggies and Potatoes
Brent Hofacker / Alamy Stock Photo

Americans are fully in the swing of the holiday season, and with that comes plenty of food traditions.

Big families mean big meals and, unfortunately, a very low percentage of those families will finish all of their prepared food and will throw out tons of leftovers. However, this issue isn’t exclusive to holidays as a recent study shows that households are wasting almost a full meal every day.

A new survey conducted by MITRE-Gallup State of Food Waste in America (SFWA) reveals trends and data from over 9,000 households nationwide. The survey consists of user-reported data about a household’s daily food waste to judge how much edible food is being thrown out and why. The results of the survey show that, on average, American households are throwing away 6.2 cups of food per week. Respondents claimed that the primary reasons for the waste stem from leftover food waste spoilage and overreliance on date labels.

That 6.2 cups of wasted food per week equates to 322 cups per year. That is enough food to fill 360 medium-sized take-out containers, which means American households are practically throwing out a meal a day every year. In addition, households that report they throw away leftovers are tossing three times as much food compared to households that attempt to save leftovers. In the survey, 87% of households reported wasted edible food the prior week.

“As the holidays approach, and people are worried about the high cost of meals, it is a good time to consider how we can all save money and reduce food waste at the same time,” said Dr. Jay Schnitzer, chief medical officer and corporate chief engineer, MITRE.

Food waste has always been an issue in America around the holidays. Edelman Dxl Survey Research shows that 50 percent of Americans and 44 percent of Canadians toss leftovers following holidays and large family gatherings. Those habits lead to nearly 305 million pounds of food thrown away each year following Thanksgiving alone. To address the ongoing issue, campaigns straight from the food production source are stepping in to offer solutions.

Hellmann’s is rolling out an advertising campaign, Between 2 Slices, to inspire households to fight food waste through the power of sandwiches. Hellmann’s website will play host to several leftover recipes, which include several sandwiches like the grilled turkey, brie, and cranberry sandwich and a chicken and apple salad sandwich, to inspire families to remix their leftover food.

Between 2 Slices continues to build on our efforts to educate North Americans about food waste reduction and through the simplicity of this holiday-season campaign featuring sandwiches, we're arming consumers with the knowledge and tools to make mindful choices about their food consumption, ensuring that the joy of celebrations stays on the plate, not in the trash,” said Chris Symmes, Marketing Director, Dressings North America, Unilever.

While the resources from producers are welcome, the solution to fixing the food waste problem in America always starts with each household being smarter with its excess food and habits. According to the SFWA survey, 86 percent of households think Americans should do more to reduce the amount of food wasted. Fortunately, there are a few simple solutions to negative habits that can be implemented today. 

For instance, households can work to find the best use of their leftovers by using them as ingredients in future meals or as another meal itself. Families that make the best of leftovers are wasting almost 70 percent less food compared to families that find themselves throwing out leftovers more often. Another way to help limit food waste is to fully understand labels. While they can be confusing, labels usually indicate freshness, not safety, meaning food can hang around in your fridge longer than you may think.

We’ve already passed arguably the biggest food-wasting week of the holiday season and entire year. Yet, there is still time to change our disposal habits before the year comes to an end. So, when the family stops in for another large dinner, be sure to have an action plan for those leftovers.

About the Author(s)

Gage Edwards

Content Producer, Waste360

Gage Edwards is a Content Producer at Waste360 and seasoned video editor.

Gage has spent the better part of 10 years creating content in various industries but mostly revolving around video games.

Gage loves video games, theme parks, and loathes littering.

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