While more than 2.2 billion people are either near or living in poverty, according to the United Nations Development Programme, almost one third of the food produced worldwide is wasted.
This waste equates to 250 km3 of water and 1.4 billion hectares of land use - adding 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the earth's atmosphere, said the team, writing in the International Journal of Consumer Studies.
While much work has focused on cutting levels of food waste in the food supply chain, much less focus has been brought to understanding where the main causes of food waste are in the home, and what can be done to reduce such losses.
Based on interviews and in-home observations, the Cornell researchers determined that the practice that resulted in the most food waste was simply buying too much food, followed by preparing food in abundance.
Led by Gustavo Porpino, the reesearchers added that leaving foods on dishes after meals or not saving leftovers, and decaying of prepared foods after long or inappropriate storage were also significant factors that resulted in disposal of foods in consumers’ homes.
"Fortunately most of the factors that lead to food waste, can be easily remedied by simple changes in food buying, preparing, and storing,” said Porpino.
"Teaching home cooks efficient meal and shopping planning strategies and proper food storage techniques can have a significant impact on reducing food waste and saving money."
Food waste in the home
After an extensive literature review, the Cornell research team performed a qualitative exploratory study with 14 lower-middle income Brazilian households, based on observations, in-depth interviews, photographs and a focus group (made up of six families).
Analysis of the qualitative data revealed five major categories of food waste antecedents:
- excessive purchasing,
- caring for a pet
- avoidance of leftovers
- inappropriate food conservation
Porpino and his team also identified several subcategories, including impulse buying, lack of planning and preference for large packages.
“Surprisingly, findings show that strategies used to save money – such as buying groceries in bulk, monthly shopping trips, preference for supermarkets and cooking from scratch – actually end up generating more food waste,” wrote the team.
In order to combat food waste in the home, the team recommended that grocery retailers and food brands offer educational sessions with cooking tips and storage techniques - a strategy that would build loyalty and help consumers to waste less.
The team also suggest that food assistance programs should take these findings into account and incorporate buying, cooking, and storage techniques in nutrition education curriculum.
Source: International Journal of Consumer Studies
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/ijcs.12207
“Food waste paradox: antecedents of food disposal in low income households”
Authors: Gustavo Porpino, et al