Nearly one-third of all U.S. food was wasted in 2010, according to a recently-released report by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS). A full 31 percent, or 133 billion pounds, of the country’s food supply went uneaten. Dairy was third on the list of most-wasted food categories, just below meat, poultry and fish at 30 percent and vegetables at 19 percent. Dairy’s $27 billion in wasted food accounted for 17 percent of the loss.

The lost food has a value of about $161 billion, ERS officials note. The biggest waste came at the consumer level, which accounted for 21 percent of the losses or about 90 billion pounds. Retailers lost another 43 billion pounds, or about 10 percent. That translates to roughly 52 pounds of uneaten dairy products per person per year. ERS defines “wasted food” as any food that is available for human consump­tion but is not consumed for any reason, including cooking loss and natural shrinkage; loss from mold, pests or inadequate climate control; plate waste; and food discarded by retailers due to blemishes.

“Food loss is becoming an increasingly important topic both domestically and internationally,” the ERS report said. “Better estimates of the amount and value of food loss, including food waste, could help serve as quantitative baselines for policymakers and the food industry to set targets and develop initiatives, legislation, or policies to minimize food waste, conserve resources and improve human nutrition.”

Reducing food loss would likely play a role in reducing U.S. and global food prices, ERS officials added.