Food, Nutrition, and Food Safety

(Selected research findings from FY 16)

An estimated 87.3 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2015, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

The remaining households (12.7 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.0 percent with very low food security because the household lacked money and other resources for food, resulting in reduced food intake and disruptions in eating patterns for one or more household members. Additional research focused specifically on children shows that an estimated 92.2 percent of households with children were food secure throughout the year in 2015, which denotes that all  household members had consistent access to adequate food for active, healthy lives. The ERS food security statistics are widely recognized as the benchmark for measuring food security in the United States, and support decision making on USDA food assistance and nutrition programs.

In 2014, 14.0 percent of all U.S. households were food insecure, versus 22.4 percent of Hispanic households.

Hispanic family grocery shopping in produce aisleUsing 2011-2014 data from the Current Population Survey’s Food Security Supplement, ERS researchers demonstrated how food insecurity varies among Hispanic subpopulations by origin, immigration status, household composition, State of residence, and metropolitan status. Food insecurity was more prevalent among Hispanics identifying as Mexican (20.8 percent), Central/South American (20.7 percent), and Puerto Rican (25.3 percent) than among those identifying as Cuban (12.1 percent) over 2011-14. Food insecurity was more prevalent among Hispanic adults who were noncitizens (24.4 percent) than among those who were U.S. citizens (18.9 percent), and more prevalent among Hispanic citizens who were born in the United States (19.1 percent) than among immigrants who became naturalized citizens (16.6 percent). Trends in food insecurity from 2000 to 2014 among Hispanic households appear to be closely related to trends in the U.S. labor market.

Thirty-seven percent of households acquired food from family, friends, parties, or a place of worship, and six percent of households acquired food from their own or others’ production by hunting, fishing, or gardening.

A July 2016 ERS report used USDA’s FoodAPS to examine where households get food in a typical week. FoodAPS captured the acquisition of free food, something which is not measured in any other U.S. purchase surveys. Household and store scanner data from Nielsen and IRI provide data on grocery store purchases, but national data on food from restaurants, schools, food banks/community resources, or family and friends are scarcer, especially those that would allow the comparison of SNAP participants to nonparticipants. The FoodAPS provides the first complete picture of U.S. household food acquisitions. The report provides many interesting statistics about weekly food acquisitions such as the finding that households devoted 55 percent of all expenditures reported during the week at large grocery stores, 3 percent at small or specialty food stores, and 7 percent at other food stores. And a third of all expenditures were at restaurants and other eating places, with the rest of food-away-from-home (FAFH) spending occurring at work and schools.

SNAP participants spend more on additional food when receiving additional SNAP benefits than they do when receiving additional cash income.

Spread of various meats, produce, grains, and dairy on wooden tableAfter the temporary increase in SNAP benefits provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the Stimulus Act, SNAP households increased the share of total expenditures spent on food by 1.44 percentage points. They spent 53 cents of each additional dollar of SNAP benefits on food, meaning that SNAP and cash income are not perfectly fungible. SNAP households spend more on food when using SNAP than economic theory predicts, with the lowest income households demonstrating the highest rate of additional spending on food using SNAP (0.62, or 62 cents for each additional dollar). Briefings to senior officials at FNCS and FNS informed decision makers about these updated estimates of an important measure of SNAP’s effects on food spending.

In USDA’s National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, economies of scale exist for both breakfasts and lunches, but are much stronger for breakfasts.

The balance between breakfasts and lunches served also affects costs, with the cost per breakfast dropping dramatically as the number of breakfasts and lunches served become more balanced. An ERS report examined how variations in school location, size, and other factors may affect the costs to schools for providing meals, separately for breakfasts and lunches. Based on a nationally and regionally representative sample of School Food Authority’s (SFAs) serving both breakfasts and lunches, SFAs served more lunches than breakfasts, with breakfasts making up only 25 percent of school meals served. However, the proportion of school breakfasts served varied considerably across locations. Consistent with findings in USDA’s School Lunch and Breakfast Study II, the average cost per breakfast for schools exceeded reimbursement rates, but costs per lunch were less than the reimbursement rate.

Despite the lack of a program incentive to shop for the lowest prices, 77 percent of WIC retail food benefits were redeemed at large stores (super store, supermarket, or large grocery) in FY 2012.

This compares to 84 percent for participants of the SNAP. The sizeable share of WIC redemptions at large stores may be due to the large share of WIC retail vendors that are large stores (63 percent) and WIC participants’ tendency to shop for WIC foods at the same stores where they do their regular shopping. The April 2016 ERS report also documents wide variation, across States, in the shares of authorized vendors and dollar redemption by store type.

Sanitary violations were the most common reason for import shipment refusal in both fishery/seafood products and fruit/fruit products, whereas pesticide residues were the most common violation for vegetables.

A March 2016 ERS report analyzes food import shipments that were refused entry into the United States by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 2005 to 2013 and assesses patterns in import refusals. It highlights which products are most often found in violation, identifies the most common types of violations, and discusses country-product patterns of note and changes in import refusal patterns over time. The industry group with the most shipments refused over 2005-13 was fishery and seafood products, with 20.5 percent of refused shipments. This was followed by vegetables/vegetable products (16.1 percent) and fruit/fruit products (10.5 percent). The share of refusals for fishery/seafood products was slightly higher over 2005-2013 than over 1998-2004, while the shares for vegetables and fruit both decreased.