Ohio State CFAES to lead federal food waste initiative

Food in trash bag.

The Ohio State University will lead a $2.5 million USDA-funded effort to help reduce food loss and waste. Brian Roe, professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), will manage a pilot consumer campaign designed to reduce the amount of food that is wasted in U.S. households.

Roe, the Fred N. VanBuren Professor of Farm Management in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics (AEDE), will partner with Sara Elnakib, associate director of Cooperative Extension at Rutgers University. They will develop educational messages and campaign materials that can meaningfully reduce the amount of U.S. household food waste.

“About one-third of all food is wasted, with about half of that occurring in homes throughout the United States,” Roe said. “Lessons learned from the pilot campaign will be used to develop an integrated education program for governmental and non-governmental organizations.”

This grant is the latest in a series of substantial investments and activities that USDA has undertaken to reduce food loss and waste. In recent years, USDA has invested $57 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to reduce food loss and waste and spur action across the country from farm to table.

“Brian’s work on reducing food waste is a shining example of the power of the integrated land-grant mission to solve pressing problems. His scholarly research has advanced knowledge on key elements of human behavior related to food waste,” said Amy Ando, professor and chair of AEDE. “His involvement with extension and federal agencies is putting that knowledge to work to strengthen food supply chains, improve the environment, and save consumers money.”

Roe has conducted several research projects on food waste over the years and is a recognized expert in the subject. For example, he found that people are confused about the array of dates on food packages. “Only in rare circumstances is that date about food safety,” he said. “Removing ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates from food packages could significantly reduce the amount of good food that is trashed.”

His work to show the benefits of uniform national standards for such labels has been mirrored by interagency and international efforts.  

The USDA announced the signing of a formal agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to renew their Federal Interagency Collaboration to Reduce Food Loss and Waste. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also joined the collaboration to help reduce food loss and waste internationally.

“By renewing this agreement and adding USAID into the effort, we affirm our shared commitment to coordinated action to reduce food loss and waste and educate Americans on its impacts and importance,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. “Individually and collectively, each of these agencies is working to combat food loss and waste from farm to table.”

With EPA, USDA has also expanded membership of the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions from 30 Champions in March 2020 to around 50 currently. These are businesses and organizations that have made a public commitment to reduce food loss and waste in their own U.S. operations in half by 2030. They include several industry giants across the food supply chain, such as Danone North America, Smithfield Foods, Inc., Starbucks, Sysco, and Tyson Foods.

“Addressing consumer food waste is critical as food wasted in households is the most likely to end up in landfills, which creates a series of undesirable outcomes,” Roe said.

The U.S. sends nearly 80 billion pounds of food to municipal solid waste landfills annually. According the EPA, food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills in the U.S., where it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the country.

Sherrie R. Whaley
For more information, contact: 

Brian Roe