New food-ordering formula could lead to less food waste in buffet-style restaurants

October 11, 2016 by Jeff Sossamon, University of Missouri-Columbia

In a 2013 study conducted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), researchers estimated one third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted. Although waste occurs in all stages of food production, some of the largest losses occur at all-you-care-to-eat (AYCTE), buffet-style facilities. University of Missouri researchers have calculated the economic and environmental production costs associated with meats and vegetables—such as fuel, transportation and fertilizers—and developed a formula that managers may use to reduce food waste at AYCTE facilities.

"Most research on food waste at the consumption phase has focused on institutions such as schools and hospitals rather than on individual households," said Ronald G. McGarvey, assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing and of public affairs in the MU College of Engineering and Truman School of Public Affairs. "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, the researchers investigated the of food waste caused by overproduction in the University of Missouri Campus Dining Services (CDS). 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 that can be re-used in the buffet lines the next day," McGarvey said.

Working with Esma Birisci, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, McGarvey and his team analyzed the carbon emissions of three common food items, French fries, chicken sandwiches and beef ravioli. They found that the environmental and monetary costs of throwing away beef ravioli was 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 said. "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. McGarvey said this new formula is more accurate and provides a better picture of food waste. He recommends that food-service managers estimate how much food to cook with an emphasis on producing more vegetables than meat. These 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 said. "However, there is growing awareness of the 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 ."

Future research will aim to develop software tools to aid managers with their production and inventory ordering decisions, McGarvey said.

The study, "Inferring shortfall costs and integrating environmental costs into optimal production levels for an all-you-care-to-eat food service operation," was published in the International Journal of Production Economics.

Explore further: Meat food waste has greater negative environmental impact than vegetable waste

More information: Esma Birisci et al, Inferring shortfall costs and integrating environmental costs into optimal production levels for an all-you-care-to-eat food service operation, International Journal of Production Economics (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpe.2016.08.034

Related Stories

UK bottom of European avoidable food waste league

August 11, 2015

The UK produces the highest amount of avoidable food waste in Europe—equivalent to a tin of beans per person per day. Those are the findings from a team of researchers based at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European ...

Recommended for you

Study: Social media sways exercise motivation

January 17, 2019

It's January – a time when students are looking for that extra bit of oomph. For some, time spent on social media might provide the necessary inspiration to get up and exercising – but that time can come with consequences, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.