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Feb. 14, 2019

Oldest Americans most focused on reducing food waste

The majority of Americans pay attention to reducing food waste with the oldest being the most cognizant, according to the latest Michigan State University Food Literacy and Engagement Poll.

The fourth wave of the poll, conducted Jan. 15-21, 2019, surveyed 2,090 Americans on their attitudes and knowledge of food issues. The results were released at the 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting

Key findings:

  • 88 percent say they take steps to reduce food waste at home. This includes 94 percent of those age 55 and older and 81 percent under 30 years old.
  • 41 percent correctly recognize that 31 to 50 percent of food annually produced in the United States goes to waste. This includes 44 percent of those age 55 and older and 36 percent under 30 years old.

Among respondents who make efforts to reduce food waste:

  • 71 percent said they try not to purchase excess food
  • 71 percent said they often consume food before it spoils
  • 34 percent share excess food when possible

Of the 12 percent who say they do not take steps to reduce food waste at home:

  • 31 percent say they do not waste food
  • 23 percent are not familiar with the term “food waste”
  • 21 percent do not know how to reduce food waste
  • 21 are not concerned about it
  • 18 percent do not have the time 

“Older Americans pay the closest attention to limiting food waste compared to their peers,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-director of the MSU Food Literacy and Engagement Poll. “Previous waves of the survey have revealed this group also performs best on general food literacy questions.”

Additional survey highlights:

  • 48 percent of Americans say they never, rarely or aren’t sure how often they consume genetically modified organisms.
  • 49 percent say they never or rarely seek information about where their food was grown or how it was produced, with an additional 15 percent responding once a month.
  • 41 percent would be willing to buy a GMO-derived fruit or vegetable that stayed fresh longer than currently available produce.

“These findings continue to expand our insights into the attitudes and behaviors of consumers,” said Doug Buhler, poll co-director and director of MSU AgBioResearch. “Given the challenges ahead in feeding more people while preserving our natural resources and protecting our climate, getting a handle on the causes and remedies of food waste is key to meeting global food demand. It takes months to produce food, but we can waste it in an instant.”

For more information about the MSU Food Literacy and Engagement Poll, visit 

Data from the MSU Food Literacy and Engagement Poll were weighted using U.S. Census Bureau figures, to ensure the sample's composition reflects the actual U.S. population. Launched in 2017, the poll was developed by Food@MSU and is supported by MSU AgBioResearch. The survey, conducted twice per year, is intended to provide an objective, authoritative look at consumer attitudes and perspectives on key food issues, and is designed to help inform national discussion, business planning and policy development.

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