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These food waste statistics will make you think twice about what you throw out

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Americans throw out 30 percent of their food. (iStock)

As Americans prepare to sit down at the dinner table and give thanks this holiday, it's a good time to note the growing problem of global food waste.

Last month, National Geographic reported some startling statistics about how much food is wasted each year.

The average American family of four tosses over 1,160 pounds of food a year -- from scraps, to spills and spoilage. That’s 1.2 million calories—enough to provide one person over 3,200 calories of food a day.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply is wasted.

Globally the problem is magnified.  Industrialized nations like the U.S. and U.K. waste 1.5 trillion pounds annually-- an amount almost equal to the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization, a division of the United Nations.

In the U.S., food is largest “single source of waste,” filling up more space than plastic or paper, reports NPR. In 2012, America produced 35 million tons of food waste, according the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent figures.

All this waste is costing us between $162 and $165 billion annually. 

"It's so cheap to buy food [that] we just look at it as a given, that it will always be there — 'I can go buy more tomorrow,' " Dan Nickey, associate director of the Iowa Waste Reduction Center, told NPR.

"Zero food waste would be ideal, but that's not reality, OK?" he says. "If you're in your kitchen and a water pipe bursts in your kitchen, you're not going to stop and think, 'How can I use this water in a socially and environmentally responsible manner?' No, you're going to stop and turn the water off. And that's what we need to do first."

Adding to the problem are issues like confusing food labels, such as "sale by dates" and "best if used by" --which are not food safety dates, but rather suggested times put on by manufacturers when the food is best to be eaten. 

Also, consumers used to perfect looking fruits and vegetables, reject discolored or misshapen produce.  These typically don't get shipped to the grocer and get thrown out on the farm, or if they do make it the store, they get tossed because they won't sell. 

"Forty to 50 percent of food waste comes from consumers, and 50 to 60 percent from businesses," Ashley Zanolli of the Environmental Protection Agency told NPR. 

She recently initiated a program Food: Too Good to Waste to teach consumers here how to be more efficient with how they buy and use food. The program aims to conquer mental and physical barriers that contribute to food waste. One part of the program stipulates that families must measure how much food they are actually wasting to be realistic about their needs. Zanolli thinks a big part of the problem stems from individuals blaming others.

"It's their brother-in-law who wastes so much food, or, oh, my gosh, their neighbor down the street," she said. 

"And unlike recycling, where you can create some peer pressure by noticing whether your neighbor has their blue bin down at the end of the driveway, it's a little different with household behaviors."