What part of the supply chain is responsible for food waste?

August 15, 2022

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What part of the supply chain is responsible for food waste?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one third of all food globally produced is lost or wasted. While food loss varies from country to country, first world countries actively see food loss in double digit percentages.

Subsequently, 8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food waste. In this blog, we review the key differences between food loss and food waste and break down parts of the supply chain to identify where food waste and loss occurs.

The difference between food loss vs food waste

Food loss occurs when food is spilled, spoiled, or experiences a decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by suppliers in the food chain before it reaches the customer.

Food waste is when food that is of good quality and suitable for consumption gets discarded before or after spoiling. Food waste typically occurs in retail and in the hands of the consumer.

Why does food waste matter?

Although food waste is a natural part of business operations, food loss isn’t.

The negative environmental impact of food waste is astronomical and deeply underestimated. When food is wasted or lost, all the resources, time, and labor spent across various food values stages are lost. Water, land, nutrients, and air are utilized to grow the crops. Time, labor, and energy are used to transport, process, and manufacture the food. 

Supply Chain Breakdown


Around 9 billion kg (20 billion lb) of produce is lost on farms every year. Food loss occurs due to weather, changes in demand, and disease.

Weather and harvesting conditions are unpredictable and to compensate and prepare accordingly, farmers will prepare a crop yield that is higher than demand. 

Farmer hands holding wooden box with different vegetables

Food waste occurs in the production stage due to changes in demand.

Farmers will leave ripe, high quality crops unharvested if the cost of labor for picking, packing, and shipping are lower than the selling price.

Changes in demand will occur due to oversupply or economic events such as the impact of COVID-19.

Handling and Storage

Food loss occurs during this stage due to lack of infrastructure, harvesting tools and techniques, and storage capabilities. Food waste can happen during this stage due to cosmetic imperfections that arise from improper handling.

Processing and Packaging

Food loss is often minimized during the processing and packaging stage. However, it can occur if the facilities are not up to standard or inadequate processing capacity.

Food loss can also occur due to improper process management. Solving this problem requires process improvement and tighter quality analysis. 

Distribution and Retail

Around 30 percent of food in American grocery stores is thrown away.

Food is typically wasted due to unsold products being thrown out when they’re past their expiration date. Food waste also occurs due to imperfect products, also known as ugly and misshapen products being omitted from purchase and selection. 

58 percent of all food waste comes from producers, manufacturers, and retailers.


This is the final stage of the supply chain where food ends up in the hands of the consumers. US households waste around 42 percent of all food and throw away more food than the total of all US retailers.

Food loss is a natural phenomenon that typically results from inefficiencies in the supply chain system while food waste occurs from oversupply, cosmetic damage, and expiration dates.

Woman is cooking in home kitchen. Female hands cut salami, vegetables, greens, tomatoes on table on wooden boards. Ingredients for preparing italian or french food. Lifestyle moment.

While 30-40% of the food supply is wasted across the entire supply chain, the bottom line is that food waste can be prevented. Everyone, from corporations to consumers, plays an equal role in reducing the amount of food that is wasted.