Food Availability and Consumption

ERS’s Food Availability data measure annual supplies of several hundred raw and semi-processed food commodities moving through the U.S. marketing system, providing per capita estimates of the types and amounts of food available to U.S. consumers over time and identifying shifts in eating patterns and food demand. A second data series covering 1970 onward—the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data—adjusts for losses from the farmgate to the fork, including damaged products, spoilage, plate waste, and other losses to more closely approximate per capita consumption.

U.S. diets are out of balance with Federal recommendations

While Americans are consuming more vegetables and fruit than in 1970, the average U.S. diet still falls short of the recommendations in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for these major food groups. Americans, on average, consumed more than the recommended amounts of meat, eggs, and nuts and grains in 2016.

Per capita availability of chicken higher than that of beef

In 2016, 63.1 pounds of chicken per person on a boneless, edible basis were available for Americans to eat, compared to 52.9 pounds of beef. Chicken began its upward climb in the 1940s, overtaking pork in 1996 as the second most consumed meat. Since 1970, U.S. chicken availability per person has more than doubled. In 2016, 14.9 pounds of fish and shellfish per person were available for consumption.

Per capita availability of corn products more than doubled between 1977 and 2017

In 2017, 35.2 pounds per person of corn products (flour and meal, hominy and grits, and food starch) were available for consumption in the United States, up from 12.2 pounds per person in 1977, according to ERS’s food availability data. Wheat flour availability was 131.8 pounds per person in 2017—16.4 pounds higher than in 1977, but a decline from levels in the late 1990s.

Availability of refined sugars has been higher than corn sweeteners for the last six years

In 2016, 130.6 pounds per person of caloric sweeteners were available for consumption by U.S. consumers, down from a high of 152.2 pounds in 1999. Availability of total corn sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, and dextrose) fell from 84.3 pounds per person in 1999 to 59.1 pounds in 2016, while refined sugar (cane and beet) surpassed it in 2011, reaching 69.6 pounds per person in 2016.

Cheese now accounts for largest share of dairy cup-equivalents in U.S. diets

According to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data, Americans consumed 1.5 cup-equivalents of dairy products per person per day in 1976 and in 2016—half the recommended amount for a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. While overall quantity is the same, the mix has changed. Fluid milk consumption has fallen from 0.9 to 0.5 cup per person per day, while cheese consumption has doubled.

Potatoes and tomatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetables

According to ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data, Americans consumed 46.4 pounds per person of potatoes and 29.6 pounds of tomatoes in 2016. Forty percent of potato consumption was frozen and 58 percent of tomato consumption was canned, as French fries and pizza sauce contribute to the high consumption of these two vegetables. The third highest vegetable—onions—came in at 8.7 pounds per person.

Apples and oranges are America’s top fruit choices

Americans consumed an average of 116.6 pounds of fresh and processed fruit per person in 2016, down from a high of 142.1 pounds in 1999. Apple juice consumption at 14.1 pounds (1.6 gallons) per person in 2016, combined with fresh apples at 10.4 pounds per person and canned, dried, and frozen apples (3.4 pounds per person), puts apples in the #1 spot for total fruit consumption. Bananas (13.5 pounds per person) top the list of most popular fresh fruits while orange juice leads juice consumption at 20 pounds (2.3 gallons).

Last updated: Thursday, November 29, 2018

For more information contact: Jeanine Bentley