Food Waste from Restaurants, Caterers, and Grocery Stores

In this post, we address a two-part question that we have been asked a lot recently; “How much food is wasted by food service businesses (restaurants and caterers) and retailers (grocery stores, delis, convenience stores)?”

Food wasted from food service businesses

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that in 2008, food service businesses (restaurants, caterers, fast food, etc.) wasted 86 billion pounds of food. About 4-10 percent of this food is lost in preparation, while 17 percent of food that is served is left uneaten by customers (about half of this 17 percent is taken home). This leaves an immense portion of prepared food and ingredients that never leaves the kitchen, but is still good to eat, and could presumably be recovered for donations.

Food wasted from food retailers 

Data from a National Resource Defense Council report shows that in-store food losses added up to 43 billion pounds in 2008. Most food that grocers throw out is perishable, including fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, baked goods, and ready-made meals (for example, a cooked rotisserie chicken). This massive amount of  waste is typically viewed as unavoidable in the food retail industry. For example, consumers tend to prefer selecting fruit and vegetables from towering piles rather than small, half-empty bins. Consequently, produce is taken out of refrigeration earlier and thus this food spoils quicker and has to be thrown out earlier. Additionally, retail managers must always ensure that there is more than enough food to meet consumer demand; if a store does not have what people are looking to buy, they will shop elsewhere. When a manager of a grocery store sees less waste than normal while analyzing a sales report, they usually take this as an indication that the store is not being stocked with enough food to meet consumer demand.

Food waste will probably always be an unfortunate by-product of the food service and food retail industries. Food recovery is a great way for all types of food businesses to help those in need, and can oftentimes result in tax savings when donated to a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Are you interested in donating your business’s leftover food to feed the hungry? FlashFood is looking for restaurants to partner with as we continue to work on our mobile application and food recovery network. To learn more or become involved with our organization, email You can also visit our website and sign up for our newsletter.


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