In The News

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…”

August 2020: The Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Food Waste 

Brian E. Roe, Kathryn Bender & Danyi Qi

Abstract: Perhaps no phenomenon has so quickly and radically altered household production parameters and daily food patterns as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In this article, we contemplate the immediate and longer-term implications of this public health crisis on one policy-relevant outcome of household production: the amount of food wasted by consumers.  Early estimates in other western economies suggest the lack of dine-out opportunities, negative financial and employment shocks, and additional time in residences may have yielded significantly less wasted food by consumers in daily settings.  However, aside from daily patterns, much food is wasted during intermittent and transitional events about which less is known.  Furthermore, little is known about the role of panic-purchased foods, the impact of household composition and work pattern shocks, the effect of dining establishment re-openings, and the influence of reduced choice autonomy by those receiving emergency food.  We conclude that the pandemic and its aftermath hold the potential to change 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 changes in foodservice and food retailing availability. Furthermore, the onset of the pandemic may induce higher base levels of home food storage among food secure households in a manner that exacerbates food waste. The net impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on long-term consumer food waste amounts is unclear and will depend on several dynamic factors. We end by recommending several steps that may help reduce waste as the pandemic unfolds.


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.

May 2020: Food Waste Declined More in Rural Chinese Households with Livestock

Danyi Qi, Wangyang Lai & Brian E. Roe

The ongoing evolution of food waste trends and the intensification of livestock systems in developing economies play a critical role in shaping global sustainability. 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. We postulate that intensified livestock production led to less uneaten food being used as animal feed and, in response, led to more efficient household consumption including less discarded food. We reject the separability of household livestock production and consumption decisions prior to the onset of livestock intensification, but cannot not reject separability thereafter. We end by discussing the implications of livestock intensification for overall food system sustainability.

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