Formula Tells Buffets How to Cut Back Waste

October 13, 2016 Updated: October 13, 2016

A new formula that calculates the economic and environmental production costs associated with meats and vegetables—such as fuel, transportation, and fertilizers—may help reduce food waste at “all-you-care-to-eat” facilities.

About one third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization study. And while waste occurs in all stages of food production, some of the largest losses occur at all-you-care-to-eat (AYCTE), buffet-style facilities.

“Most research on food waste at the consumption phase has focused on institutions such as schools and hospitals rather than on individual households,” says Ronald G. McGarvey, assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering and of public affairs at the University of Missouri.

“With this new research, we have developed a formula that food-service managers can use when deciding how to store, prepare, and serve food. We anticipate that using this new formula could considerably reduce food waste on college campuses and in other AYCTE facilities.”

To develop the formula, researchers investigated the environmental impact of food waste caused by overproduction in the University of Missouri Campus Dining Services. The setting, which includes all-you-care-to-eat facilities, is of particular interest to planners as increased chances of discarded leftovers exist.

“In buffet-style restaurants, the tendency is to produce more than is actually consumed or than can be re-used in the buffet lines the next day,” McGarvey says.

Working with Esma Birisci, a doctoral candidate in the industrial and manufacturing systems engineering department, McGarvey analyzed the carbon emissions of three common food items, French fries, chicken sandwiches, and beef ravioli.

The environmental and monetary costs of throwing away beef ravioli were up to 39 times more than throwing away French fries.

“Farm equipment used to feed and maintain livestock and to plant and harvest crops uses a lot of diesel fuel and other utilities from fossil fuels,” McGarvey says. “When people waste food, these fuels, as well as fertilizers, also are wasted.”

Based on their estimates, the team developed a production planning formula taking into account the resources used to produce the food that is more accurate and provides a better picture of food waste.

Food-service managers should estimate how much food to cook with an emphasis on producing more vegetables than meat. These kinds of calculations will help keep food waste at a minimum while lessening the environmental impact.

“Institutional food-service providers face a common planning problem—how much food to produce in the presence of uncertain demand,” McGarvey says. “However, there is growing awareness of the environmental costs associated with food waste.

“Employing this new formula we’ve developed may incentivize AYCTE managers to calculate the environmental costs associated with their production decisions thereby reducing the environmental impact of food waste.”

Future research will aim to develop software tools to help food service managers with production and inventory ordering decisions. The findings appear in the International Journal of Production Economics.

Source: University of Missouri

Original Study