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Questions & Answers

Q: Does the Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System measure actual consumption?

A: No. The data system, which consists of three data series, does not measure actual consumption or the quantities ingested. The data are not based on direct observations of consumption or on survey reports of consumption. They are calculated by adding total annual production, imports, and beginning stocks of a particular commodity and then subtracting exports, ending stocks, and nonfood uses. Per capita estimates are calculated using population estimates for that particular year. However, ERS's food availability (per capita) data are useful for economic analysis because they serve as indirect measures of trends in food use. In other words, the Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System provides an indication of whether Americans, on average, are consuming more or less of various foods over time.

Q: Does the data system provide estimates by State or region?

A: No, the data are available only at the national level, and it is not known whether such data can be obtained. See Food Availability Documentation for more details on how the core food availability data are constructed.

Q: Why is there a sharp increase in salad and vegetable oil availability, shortening availability, and some totals (for example, added fats and oils available per year and  total calories available per day) between 2000 and 2001?

A: In 2000, the number of firms reporting vegetable oil production to the U.S. Census Bureau increased noticeably. As a result, estimates of the availability of salad & cooking oils and shortening spiked. ERS surmises that it is unlikely that this unusually large increase in the number of firms occurred in one year; it is more likely that the number increased incrementally over time. The spike suggests that the availability estimates in a few years before 2000 could have been somewhat underestimated. However, ERS does not have additional information from the U.S. Census Bureau to support or clarify that supposition. Therefore, the data must be interpreted with care when discussing particular estimates for salad & cooking oils and shortening around 2000 or when discussing aggregated numbers based on these estimates, such as estimates for total vegetable fats and oils, total added fats and oils, and total calories from added fats and oils and from all foods (See Dietary Assessment of Major Trends in U.S. Food Consumption, 1970-2005, p. 13). For more information, see the Added Fats and Oils section in the Food Availability Documentation.

Q: What is the difference between farm weight and retail weight?

A: Farm weight is the weight of a commodity as measured on the farm before further conditioning and processing. Retail weight (also called product weight) is the weight of a product as it is sold at the retail level. In the meat trade, retail weight is differentiated from carcass-weight equivalent, and may or may not include the weight of bone, fat, or additional water. Additional definitions can be found in the Glossary.

Q: What are SoFAS?

A: SoFAS are solid fats and added sugars. The limits for calories from SoFAS are the remaining amount of calories in each food pattern after selecting the specified amounts in each food group in nutrient‐dense forms (forms that are fat‐free or low‐fat and with no added sugars).

[Adapted from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.]

Q: Are the food availability data adjusted for food losses?

A: No, the core food availability data are not adjusted for most food losses (only some farm to retail losses have been accounted for at this stage). However, ERS has developed methods to adjust the food availability data for losses and also to present the data in terms of daily per capita food pattern equivalents. The second data series—Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data—allows researchers to gain a more complete understanding of U.S. dietary patterns by comparing food pattern equivalents measured at the national level with estimates generated at the individual level from food intake surveys.

Q: What is the difference between food loss and food waste?

A: Food loss represents the edible amount of food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason. It includes cooking loss and natural shrinkage (for example, moisture loss); loss from mold, pests, or inadequate climate control; and food waste. Food waste is a component of food loss and occurs when an edible item goes unconsumed, as in food discarded by retailers due to color or appearance and plate waste by consumers. 

Q: Who do I contact if my question is not answered here?

A: Please contact Jeanine Bentley if your question is not answered here.

Recommended Citation

Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

Last updated: Monday, June 30, 2014

For more information contact: Jeanine Bentley

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