You are here

The Food-Waste Paradox

Household Food Waste and What to Do About It

Household Food Waste and What to Do About It

In order to lower food waste, stop buying foods in bulk and instead make smaller trips to the grocery store more frequently

Grocery stores can offer educational sessions with cooking tips and storage techniques to reduce food waste

Food assistance programs can incorporate buying, cooking, and storage techniques in nutrition education curriculum

Scroll down to read more... 

Porpino, Gustavo, Juracy Parente, and Brian Wansink, (2015). Food Waste Paradox: Antecedents of food disposal in low income households. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(6), 619-629. doi: 10.1111/ijcs.12207

Gustavo Porpino , PhD, Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, Brasília, Brazil (EMBRAPA)

Food wasted means money wasted which can be an expensive problem especially in homes with financial constraints. A new study from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and the Getulio Vargas Foundation shows that the top causes of food waste in such homes include buying too much, preparing in abundance, unwillingness to consume leftovers, and improper food storage. “Fortunately,” notes lead author Gustavo Porpino, PhD candidate at the Getulio Vargas Foundation and Visiting Scholar at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, “most of the factors that lead to food waste, can be easily remedied by simple changes in food buying, preparing, and storing.”

For the study, in-home interviews were conducted with the mothers of twenty lower-middle class families from two suburbs of Sao Paulo, Brazil to collect information about each family’s shopping, cooking, and disposal practices. Each family was also observed and photographed preparing, eating and disposing of food.

Based on interviews and in-home observations, Porpino and co-authors Juracy Gomes Parente, PhD, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, and Brian Wansink, PhD, Director of the Food and Brand lab and author of Slim by Design, determined that the practice that resulted in the most food waste was simply buying too much food, followed by preparing food in abundance. Leaving food on dishes after meals or not saving leftovers, and decaying of prepared foods after long or inappropriate storage were also significant factors that resulted in disposal of foods. Furthermore, the researchers found that strategies that are intended to save money such as buying in bulk and shopping monthly (rather than more frequently), and cooking from scratch, actually contributed to the generation of food waste and ultimately did not result in savings.

“Teaching home cooks efficient meal and shopping planning strategies and proper food storage techniques can have a significant impact on reducing food waste and saving money,” says Porpino. The researchers recommend that grocery stores offer educational sessions with cooking tips and storage techniques—a strategy that would build store loyalty and help consumers to waste less. The researchers also suggest that food assistance programs should take these findings into account and incorporate buying, cooking, and storage techniques into nutrition education curriculums. 

Summary by Gustavo Porpino and Katherine Baildon