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Oregon Wasted Food Study

Institutional and commercial sector case studies

DEQ funded the Oregon Wasted Food Study: Institutional and Commercial Sector Case Studies in 2017 and 2018, to investigate the quantities, types and causes of wasted edible food in Oregon’s commercial sectors.  This study was conceived as a companion study to the Wasted Food Measurement Study, which focused on residential wasted food.

Developed by Portland State University’s Community Environmental Services under an agreement with DEQ, these fifteen case studies identify general principles and specific strategies to reduce wasted food in the commercial sector. Key take-aways from the case studies can be applied across business contexts:  

Download the Case Study Summary Report 

  • Plan. Use whatever information available to plan crucial process elements at a business. For example, use sales data to tailor production to demand, use waste measurement data to plan for buffet serving dish sizes or plate sizes, or use customer portion preference information to plan port sizes that better meet customer needs.

  • Train. Set strong expectations for current and incoming staff around waste reduction and use frequent trainings to cement these understandings, establish new waste prevention practices and create a platform for best-practice sharing among staff.

  • Set expectations. A business will benefit by setting clear expectations to both staff and customers about waste and waste prevention efforts. Use signage to help customers understand why products may not be available towards the ends of meal times. Use routine performance evaluations as a time to talk with staff about expectations of waste prevention.

  • Be dynamic. Even with the best planning unfavorable things do happen. Attendance at a catering event barely reaches 50% or twice as many customers as usual show up to a Sunday brunch. Businesses can build in systems and practices to help them accommodate abnormal events and ensure they do not cause unnecessary waste or overproduction. Below are a few suggestions:

    • Cook-to-order when possible so little food is over-prepared.
    • Use smaller batch sizes to minimize overproduction in the case of less-than-expected demand.
    • Stock emergency menu item substitutes that store well but allow for quick use when regular menu items run out.
    • Use dynamic production planning, reviewing PARs multiple times per week (or even day) to adjust to abnormal events or new patterns of demand.

  • Target. Waste prevention can take the form of broad changes, but it can also look like targeted interventions. It may work best to target energy and staff resources to address the most significant causes of waste. Furthermore, prevention strategies themselves may benefit from a narrow focus. Track a particular stream or type of waste to monitor progress. Re-evaluate production planning and PARs at the product level. Work with specific staff to change processes they primarily control.

  • Repurpose. Businesses can benefit when they support creative ingredient repurposing. Support can mean both cultural (e.g. setting expectations for staff to repurpose ingredients) and structural (e.g. planning menu items with complimentary ingredients). Additional strategies to support repurposing include:

    • Prepare ingredients separately when possible and combine when served (for example, bake chicken breasts separately from sauces).
    • Plan menus so that by-products from one menu item can be used in another (e.g. trim from sirloin steak is ground for beef for sliders).
    • Create a shelf in the refrigerator for ingredients needed to be repurposed. Encourage staff to look there first when selecting ingredients.

  • Change culture. Edible food waste is as much a cultural problem than it is a logistical one. Businesses can support waste prevention by supporting a culture of waste reduction, re-purposing, and problem-solving. Consider hiring employees who demonstrate dedication to waste prevention or have thrifty tendencies. Recognize employees who demonstrate commitment to waste prevention.

  • Celebrate. Waste prevention work can be difficult. Furthermore, it heavily relies on front-line staff to problem solve and adapt, utilizing their time, labor and knowledge. Businesses should recognize and compensate their employees for this work through recognition, celebration, increased pay or other methods.​


Elaine Blatt
Materials Management Program
Phone 503-229-6492