National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

Consumer level waste of fresh fruits and vegetables is staggering, if you pause to consider it. For example, if one banana out of five in the fruit bowl goes bad, that is 20% loss.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service details food availability per capita numbers, updated to 2010.

The data series is the first year for the use of new consumer level loss estimates for fresh fruits and vegetables (and other commodities).

Previously, the USDA's food availability per capita numbers overstated actual fruit and vegetable consumption. The USDA says the new loss estimates for individual foods are substantially different than previous estimates. Most reflect greater consumer loss of food from "cooking loss and uneaten food" than was previously estimated.

While previous consumer loss estimates appear to be "ballpark" or generic guesses for whole categories of food, the new loss percentages are are calculated by subtracting food consumption estimates from food purchase or availability estimates for each type of food.

For example, the previous estimate for consumer loss of fresh strawberries was 20%, while the new estimate is 35%. The new loss estimate for fresh cherries is 51%, compared with the old ERS estimate of 20%.

Some commodities reflected lower loss estimates; for example, fresh watermelon showed a consumer loss estimate of 13%, compared with the previous guess of 20%.

Any food professional will want to give these figures a closer look. The numbers may illuminate  how fresh produce professionals can leverage their efforts to reduce food loss through the supply chain, including the fruit bowl in the kitchen.