WEDNESDAY, June 10, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Most Americans waste more food than they believe, and only one in 10 worries about the environmental harm posed by discarded food, a new study shows.
Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 consumers across the nation in April 2014. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they believed they wasted less food than the national average, according to the findings published June 10 in the journal PLOS ONE.
"Americans perceive themselves as wasting very little food, but in reality, we are wasting substantial quantities," said study leader Roni Neff, director of the Food System Sustainability and Public Health Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"It happens throughout the food chain, including both a lot of waste by consumers, and a lot on our behalf, when businesses think we won't buy imperfect food. The root causes are complex," said Neff in a Hopkins news release.
Between 31 and 40 percent of the American food supply goes to waste, primarily in homes, stores and restaurants, according to the researchers. By weight, the top foods wasted are fruits and vegetables, partly due to their bulk and perishability.
Each year, food waste costs Americans more than $161 billion, the researchers say.
The top reasons respondents gave for wasting food were safety concerns and a desire to eat only the freshest food. The leading reasons they wanted to waste less food were saving money and setting a positive example for children.
Only 10 percent of respondents said that environmental concerns were a "very important" reason for not wasting food.
"The survey results are especially relevant for three groups. For educators working to reduce food waste, a key finding is that highlighting financial savings may resonate more with consumers than other types of messaging. But there is still a need to explain the environmental effects of wasting food," Neff said.
For policymakers, the findings suggest a need to making date labels clear and consistent, and to encode sell-by labels so they do not mislead consumers, Neff added. "And for businesses, the survey highlights changes consumers want, like offering resealable bags and smaller product sizes, and discounting damaged or near-expiration foods," she explained.
"Consumer waste of food in the U.S. represents a powerful quintuple threat," Neff said. "Reducing it may improve food security, nutrition, budgets, environment and public health."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains how to reduce food waste.