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Most Americans Try to Avoid Food Waste

Survey finds older adults are most aware of how much gets thrown away

Fruits and vegetables in a trash can

 Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

En español | The vast majority of Americans, led by older consumers, say they are taking steps to avoid wasting food, according to Michigan State University’s latest Food Literacy and Engagement Poll.

Eighty-eight percent of those polled — including 94 percent of those 55 and older, and 81 percent of those under age 30 — say they try to cut waste.

For example, the great majority of those polled (71 percent) say they make efforts to buy only what they need and to consume food before it spoils.

Older people also are the ones most aware of food-related concerns, the poll found. These include that an estimated 31 percent to 50 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste.

“Older Americans pay the closest attention to limiting food waste compared to their peers,” Sheril Kirshenbaum, codirector of the poll, said in an online summary of the results. “Previous waves of the survey have revealed this group also performs best on general food literacy questions.”

Of those polled who don’t make an effort, many say they don’t waste food anyway, some aren’t familiar with the phrase “food waste,” and others don’t know how to avoid it, aren’t concerned or don’t have the time.

The poll, which surveyed 2,090 Americans from Jan. 15 to 21, was released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting this month.

Food experts generally advise consumers to:

  • Store leftovers in clear containers so they can be seen.
  • Shop more frequently for perishables to avoid buying more than needed for a few days.
  • Turn surplus food into soups or stir-fry dishes.
  • Don’t be overly strict about tossing food based on “use by” dates that often indicate when it’s at its peak quality, not when it’s unsafe to eat.