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ERS annually calculates the amount of food available for consumption on a per capita basis in the United States. The U.S. food supply series, which measures national consumption of several hundred basic commodities, is based on records of commodity flows from production to end uses (figure 1). This involves the development of supply and utilization balance sheets for each major commodity from which foods are purchased. Total available supply is the sum of production, beginning inventories, and imports. These three components are either directly measurable or are estimated by Government agencies using sampling and statistical methods.

               Figure 1. Estimating U.S. Food Consumption

Production Plus Imports and inshipments from territories Plus Beginning Stocks
    Annual Supply    
Exports and Shipments to territories Plus Farm inputs and industrial uses Plus Ending Stocks
    U.S. food consumption (disappearance)    

The food available for human use reflects what is left from available supply after deducting exports, industrial uses, farm inputs, and end of year inventories. Human food use is not directly measured or statistically estimated. Instead it is a residual component after subtracting out other uses from the available total supply. The availability of food for human use represents disappearance of food into the marketing system, and it is often referred to as food disappearance. Food disappearance measures food supplies for consumption through all outlets--home and away from home. Per capita food use, or consumption, is calculated by dividing the total annual food disappearance by the total U.S. population.

Estimates of consumption (disappearance) are prepared at two levels for most commodities: the primary weight and the retail equivalent weight.  The basic measurement is at the primary distribution level. Some foods, such as eggs and produce, are measured at the farm gate. However, most processed commodities are measured at the processing or manufacturing plant. Once the primary level of distribution has been selected, quantities of all other components in the balance sheet for that commodity are converted to the primary-weight basis, using appropriate conversion factors.

ERS converts food consumption from primary weight to a retail-weight equivalent, using conversion factors that allow for additional processing, trimming, shrinkage, or loss in the distribution system. Subsequent losses that occur after the retail level, such as in preparation and cooking in the home or food service establishments, are not considered. Therefore, the amount of foods available for consumption exceeds that actually ingested by individuals For more information link to ERS publication Food Consumption, Prices, and Expenditures.

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