Recent Research and Media Coverage

May 2022: Food Waste on OSU Extension Today

Learn how much of the food produced today around the world is never consumed, and how you can help prevent unnecessary food loss right in your own home. Brian Roe, a professor with the CFAES Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, joins Jenny Lobb to discuss this global issue and bring the facts closer to home for all of us.

April 2022: Measuring Food Loss and Waste Costs in the Italian Potato Chip Industry Using Material Flow Cost Accounting (open access)

Vera Amicarelli, Brian E. Roe, Christian Bux

Material flow cost accounting (MFCA) represents an innovative tool to identify inefficiencies in the use of resources in agribusiness, measuring either mass flows or costs incurred along the entire supply chain. The purpose of the article is to estimate the meso-level ecological and economic impacts of food loss and waste in the Italian salty snack sector before and during the COVID-19 lockdown by applying MFCA.


April 2022: A Randomized Controlled Trial to Address Consumer Food Waste with a Technology-aided Tailored Sustainability Intervention

Brian E Roe, Danyi Qi, Robbie A Beyl, Karissa E Neubig, John W Apolzan, Corby K Martin

Using a novel technology-aided delivery and measurement approach, we conduct a randomized controlled trial featuring an individually tailored intervention focused on reducing the amount of food wasted by participants over approximately one week in their normal living conditions. We find large significant effects for the focal area of food wasted during dining (a 79% reduction), a null effect on food wasted over all household stages (preparation, dining and clean outs), and desirable or null effects for critical antecedent (e.g., waste during preparation, continued purchases of fresh produce), concurrent (e.g., food selection and consumption), and attendant behaviors (e.g., waste from storage clean outs, avoiding waste deposits in landfills).


February 2022: Transforming wasted food will require systemic and sustainable infrastructure innovations (open access)

Callie W Babbitt, Roni A Neff, Brian E Roe, Sauleh Siddiqui, Celeste Chavis, Thomas A Trabold

Currently, 40% of food produced in the U.S. is never eaten, leading to lost resources, economic costs, decreased food security, and the wasted food itself, which has immense climate and ecological impacts. However, unwanted food can be leveraged towards sustainability aims by, for example, diverting high-quality surplus to food-insecure communities, recycling carbon and nutrients into agricultural production, and converting food wastes into bioenergy. This transformation will require co-evolution of both physical infrastructure systems that produce, deliver, and manage food and waste and human infrastructure, from front-line workers to governance and institutions. This contribution will synthesize current knowledge and research in support of this transition, drawing from recent literature and two NSF-funded workshops on wasted food management in sustainable urban systems.


January 2022: Winning ugly: Profit maximizing marketing strategies for ugly foods

Danyi Qi, Jerrod Penn, Ran Li, Brian E Roe

We conduct an online discrete choice experiment and find a portfolio of marketing strategies that significantly enhance respondent willingness to pay for ugly carrots. Dual messages that simultaneously (1) link the purchase of ugly food to reductions in food waste and (2) suggest ugly food is natural and authentic significantly improve willingness to pay. We also find respondents tolerate some level of mixing of ugly with standard carrots. We find the most profitable strategy is to form bunches that include 40% ugly and 60% standard carrots and to sell the bunches with green leaves attached at farmers markets where consumers receive dual marketing messages.

Media coverage: Athropocene Magazine


June 2021: Consumer behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic: An analysis of food purchasing and management behaviors in US households through the lens of food system resilience

Kathryn E Bender, Aishwarya Badiger, Brian E Roe, Yiheng Shu, Danyi Qi

We use national survey data from July 2020 to understand the food acquisition, preparation, and management strategies that households implemented in response to the pandemic. We find a substantial increase in the amount of food prepared and consumed at home which scales with respondents’ time availability, perceived risks of dining out, and pandemic-induced income disruption. We then identify several household responses to support this increase in home food consumption that are in line with practices suggested to enhance resiliency at other links in the food supply chain, including increased cold storage capacity and enhanced in-house capability via improved cooking and food management skills.


March 2021: The impact of COVID‐19 on consumer food waste (open access)

Brian E Roe, Kathryn Bender, Danyi Qi

Perhaps no phenomenon has so quickly and radically altered household production parameters and daily food patterns as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We contemplate the immediate and longer-term implications of this public health crisis on the amount of food wasted by consumers. We conclude that the pandemic and its aftermath may improve household skills and management practices in a manner that reduces day-to-day household food waste. However, pandemic-driven disruptions may induce larger intermittent purges of food due to changes in work patterns and food service and food retailing availability. We recommend several steps to reduce waste as the pandemic unfolds.


January 2021: Adapting, refining and expanding a validated questionnaire to measure food waste in US households (open access)

Yiheng Shu, Brian E Roe, Kathryn Bender

The Household Food Waste Questionnaire (van Herpen et al. 2019a) was developed and validated as an effective instrument to identify statistically significant differences between households and to distinguish trends in household food waste over time. The original instrument was validated using consumers sampled from several European countries. We conduct a pilot study with U.S. consumers using the revised questionnaire. We find that a sample of 150 online panelists provided sufficient statistical power to replicate standard findings from the literature that smaller households and older respondents generate less food waste, but not enough statistical power to identify a statistically significant week-to-week reduction in reported food waste among households who received a food waste message rather than a control message.


January 2021: Progress and Challenges in Empirical Food Waste Research: A Commentary  

Brian E. Roe

Few people like to take the garbage out, let alone measure it. This yuck factor creates a significant barrier to the direct measurement of food that is wasted throughout the supply chain, particularly in household settings where most calories are prepared and ingested, and where direct measurement often relies upon intimate contact between consumers and the food they no longer want. This has contributed to a paucity of data on wasted food, which hinders evaluation of proposed interventions and analysis of proposals in this burgeoning area of food and sustainability policy.


January 2021: Food waste declined more in rural Chinese households with livestock

Danyi Qi, Wangyang Lai, Brian E. Roe

We explore the linkage between food waste and livestock systems at the household level and how this connection changed in China during the 1990s and 2000s when market liberalization was followed by policies that led to intensification of livestock production. We find the amount of food waste in all rural households declined significantly over this period. Households with livestock, which often use uneaten food for animal feed, created about 75% more food waste than other rural households at the beginning of this period, but experienced significantly greater reductions in food waste and significantly greater increases in animal protein consumption over the study period.


September 2020: Selection, intake, and plate waste patterns of leftover food items among U.S. consumers: A pilot study

Brian E. Roe, Danyi Qi, John W. Apolzan, & Corby K. Martin appearing in PLOS ONE

Media coverage: Scientific American Podcast

Many campaigns promote the preservation and consumption of leftover food items as a critical household strategy to accomplish national consumer food waste reduction goals. We fill a gap in knowledge about the consumption and creation of leftovers in the United States by analyzing data from a pilot study in which 18 subjects tracked food selection, intake, and plate waste across all eating occasions for about one week. Subjects noted which items selected for consumption were leftovers, i.e., previously prepared but uneaten items that were stored for future consumption, and which unfinished items were saved to become leftovers. We found that 12% of items selected for consumption were leftovers while 24% of selected items that were not fully consumed were kept to become a leftover. Leftovers were most frequently vegetables, cheeses, and meats, and most frequently selected on Mondays and for lunch. Regression analyses isolate significant dining patterns with respect to leftovers, including evidence that leftovers were less likely to be fully consumed than non-leftover items, and that larger meals led to more uneaten food. This suggests that strategies to reduce meal size may be most effective in reducing food waste by limiting the creation of leftovers in the first place. Strategies to make leftovers more attractive and appealing may also reduce food waste.

August 2020: Pandemic-related cooking and eating habits could help curb food waste — if consumers stick to them

Washington Post, August 31, 2020

“…The massive, shelf-clearing purchases common in March may have subsided, but Brian Roe, an agricultural economist at Ohio State University, worries the pandemic’s legacy may include larger food stockpiles in people’s homes, which could lead to forgotten and ultimately wasted food. While thoughtful freezing can preserve food and avoid waste, Roe notes that it’s easy for items to be lost in a sea of icy containers…”


July 2020 Technical Report: The Post-COVID State of the American Refrigerator

Kathryn Bender, Yiheng Shu, Aishwarya Badiger, Dennis R. Heldman, Danyi Qi & Brian E. Roe*

From July 6–8, 2020, we administered a survey to 518 respondents from throughout the United States who are part of Qualtrics’ online panels. The survey replicates many key questions asked on a similar survey administered in the Autumn of 2018 as detailed in Davenport, Qi and Roe (2019). This technical report presents the questions and response options presented to respondents along with summary statistics (proportions for categorical data and means, standard deviations, and medians for continuous variables).

The State of the American Refrigerator 2020 PDF

June 2020: Chinese Household Food Waste Declined Substantially From 1991 – 2009

Danyi Qi, John W. Apolzan, Ran Li & Brian E. Roe

Food waste reduction is an explicit goal for many countries, yet a paucity of high-quality primary measurements of food waste are available to inform policy. We analyze repeated physical measurements of discarded food from more than 37,000 households enrolled in the China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS) from 1991 to 2009 and describe relevant food waste patterns and trends within households over a period of dramatic change. Over a period in which average real household incomes tripled, food discarded per person declined by about 20% on a quantity basis and by about 40% on a Calorie basis during the study, with an estimated annual per capita household waste of 14.9 kg in 2009. Comparing across households within narrower periods of the data, we find changing associations between income and food waste, with a weakly negative association during the 1990s and a significant positive association during the 2000s. Carbohydrates, particularly grains and vegetables and fruits, experienced the greatest reduction in waste. Food waste reduction rates over the study period were greatest among small households and rural households. Certain characteristics were associated with higher per person waste levels throughout the study period, including rural residence, intense physical activity levels, and a lack of home refrigeration.


June 2020: The FoodImage App Shown to be a Valid and Preferred Method for Measuring Household Food Waste

Brian E. Roe, Danyi Qi, Robbie A. Beyl, Karissa E. Neubig, Corby K. Martin & John W. Apolzan

The FoodImageTM smartphone app transmits users’ photographs of food selection and food waste to researchers, and includes user-tagged information about waste reasons and destination. Twenty-four participants were trained to record food waste using FoodImage, food waste diaries requiring visual estimation of waste quantities, and diaries requiring scale weights. Participants used each method during three staged food-waste scenarios (food preparation, eating, and clean-out) in a randomized crossover trial. Two participants had extreme values for the weighed diary method; therefore, accuracy results are reported with and without these two participants’ data. Error was calculated as waste estimated with the experimental method minus directly weighed waste. Mean absolute error from FoodImage was significantly smaller than or equal to the error from both diary methods in each scenario. Furthermore, the mean values from FoodImage were equivalent to directly weighed values in two out of the three tasks; while weighed diaries were equivalent in two tasks only when the two participants with extreme values were removed. Visually estimated diaries were equivalent for only one task. All 24 participants preferred FoodImage to diaries and all rated FoodImage as less time consuming. Over one week, FoodImage would require ~24 fewer minutes of users’ time to record all data. Unlike food waste diaries, FoodImage also transmits data to researchers in real-time and provides detailed data on food selection and intake.

August 2019 Article on Food Waste and American Refrigerators


Brian Roe and Mike Long on All Sides Considered with Ann Fisher

Brian Roe as a panelist at the 2017 Food Tank Summit in NYC

Brian Roe presents at the 2017 Midwest Food Recovery Summit


2018 NASEM Workshop on Food Loss and Waste, featuring Brian Roe as panel moderator

Minute Professor:  Spoiled Milk?

Brian Roe at the 2018 Midwest Food Recovery Summit