In this feature on Food Choices & Health, the United States Department of Agriculture and Economic Research Service (ERS) discusses food loss and food waste and points out the distinction in meaning between the two. They describe food loss as includes moisture loss and cooking shrinkage; loss from mould, pests, or inadequate climate control; and food waste.
Food waste is thus a subcomponent of food loss, including edible food discarded by retailers due to colour or appearance and plate waste thrown away by consumers. It also finds that, if the farm to retail stage is excluded, and one only looks the later food chain stages, an estimated 31% of the food available for consumption at the retail and consumer levels was wasted in the US. This article also includes breakdowns of food losses at retailer versus consumer levels for different food groups and specific products.
The article draws on the following research carried out by USDA ERS:
The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, by Jean Buzby, Hodan Farah Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman, USDA, Economic Research Service, February 2014
Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, by Jeanine Bentley and Jean Buzby, USDA, Economic Research Service, April 2014
For detailed analysis of food loss and waste issues in the UK see the very detailed work by the Waste Resources Action Programme. Many of the studies have been summarised in the waste section of the FCRN website (link above) but you can also go directly to WRAP’s food waste pages here.