Seeking a solution to food waste from farm to fork

Feb 20, 2017

 

A Cal Poly professor and his research team were given a grant from the US Department of Agriculture for almost half a million dollars last week to study solutions to food waste.

Cal Poly economics department chair Steve Hamilton said his research team aims to reduce food waste not only at the consumer level, but at every step of the process, from farmers, to retailers and to consumers. 

Hamilton said that the goal of his team is to prevent food from ending up in landfills.

“Nearly a third of all food created in the U.S. ends up in a landfill," Hamilton said. "So the food waste problem is multi-dimensional. It happens at all levels from the production side to the consumer side.”

Hamilton said the team will be looking at different ways to configure the food market by incorporating secondary markets. This means connecting retailers with food banks, locally-grown retailers and restaurants to prevent food going to waste.

“One possibility would be to take retailers that periodically have excess inventory, and have them predict that quicker so that they can actually move this to a secondary market," Hamilton said. "It could be at a food bank. It could be at a restaurant.”

It’s common for retailers and consumers to buy in excess, which can lead to food being thrown away if it goes bad.

“It’s so cheap," Hamilton said. "The easiest thing to do is to buy more than you need, because it’s always worse to run out and want something and not have it. So consumers do the same thing that retailers do and that’s they buy too much of it and some of it goes to waste.”

Besides buying in excess, food is wasted due to mislabeling, seasonal surpluses and spoilage. Hamilton said the team is going to look into ways that retailers can predict the amount of food they will need more accurately before buying. Hamilton calls this "predictive management."

The team is made up of faculty and students from Cal Poly, Arizona State University and Cornell University. The project is scheduled to start this summer and run for two years.