Why and How to Measure Food Loss and Waste

Processing and Manufacturing - Why and How to Measure Food Loss and Waste


The processing and manufacturing stage of the food supply chain encompasses all processes intended to transform raw food materials into products suitable for consumption, cooking or sale. In this guide, “food processing” and “food manufacturing” are used interchangeably. This stage in the supply chain includes the processes that turn raw agricultural products into saleable goods, which often move to retail, wholesale, distribution or food service institutions. It also includes packaging of processed goods.

Examples of organizations in this sector are: fruit and fruit juice processing plants, cereal manufacturing facilities, pastry factories, canneries, butchers, breweries, bakeries and dairy processing plants.

In processing and manufacturing, FLW can be caused by trimming for consistency, misshapen products, spillage, degradation during processing, production line changes, contamination, overproduction, order cancellation, changes in customer demand or specifications, or improper labeling, among other things.

Food processing represents 15–23 percent of the entire manufacturing industry (including nonfood manufacturing) in North America (USDA ERS 2016, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 2014, ProMéxico 2015).

Some approaches to preventing FLW in processing and manufacturing are listed below.

  • Work with actors upstream in the food supply chain to increase the share of second-grade products that are accepted and valorized to some point.
  • Improve cold-chain management and infrastructure to prevent spoilage or degradation during storage and transport.
  • Work with actors across the food supply chain to expand value-added processing to increase the proportion of produced food able to be consumed.
  • Standardize date labels to reduce the amount of FLW generated from confusion over food safety.
  • Adjust packaging to extend the life of food products and reduce damage during storage or transport.
  • Optimize manufacturing lines and production processes to increase yields and reduce inefficiencies.

Methods Used to Measure FLW

Appropriate methods for FLW measurement depend on the context of who is doing the measuring and what information is available. Start by answering the five questions below.

  • Do you have direct access to the FLW? Does the method require the ability to directly count, handle or weigh the FLW?
  • What level of accuracy do you need? How accurate will the data gathered with this method be?
  • What amount of time and resources can you assign to measuring FLW? The relative amount of resources (time, money, equipment) needed to carry out the method.
  • Do you need a method that can tracks causes of FLW? Some methods can track causes associated with FLW and others cannot.
  • Do you want to track progress over time? Some methods can assess increases or decreases in FLW across time to track progress.

Based on your answers to these questions, use Table 9 to determine which method or methods are most appropriate. If you are addressing multiple types of FLW (for example, both solid and liquid), you may need multiple types of methods.

Table 9. Methods Used to Measure FLW in the Processing and Manufacturing Sector


Method Name Direct FLW Access Needed? Level of Accuracy? Level of Resources Required? Tracks Causes? Tracks Progress Over Time?
Methods for gathering new data
Direct Measurement Yes High High Yes Yes
Waste Composition Analysis Yes High High No Yes
Methods based on existing data
Mass Balance No Medium Low No Yes
Records No Variable* Low No Yes
Less commonly used methods at the processing and manufacturing sector
Diaries No Low-Medium Medium Yes Yes
Interviews/Surveys No Low-Medium Medium-High Yes Yes
Proxy Data No Low Low No No

*Accuracy depends on the type of record used: for example, waste transfer receipts may be highly accurate for determing FLW levels, whereas other records are less accurate.
Note: The methods named are nonexhaustive.
Source: Authors.

For additional guidance, see the FLW Quantification Method Ranking Tool published by the Food Loss and Waste Protocol, which asks 11 questions about your circumstances and provides a ranked list of methods based on your answers.

Case Study for the Processing and Manufacturing Sector

Byblos Bakery is the top branded pita maker in western Canada. Working with Provision Coalition and Enviro-Stewards to measure and prevent FLW in their manufacturing operations Byblos saved over C$200,000. Enviro-Stewards conducted a food waste prevention assessment of the facilities, and the Provision Coalition’s FLW Toolkit was used to develop a set of FLW reduction strategies and solutions. By using a facility assessment along with the FLW Toolkit, Byblos could identify root causes for FLW generation and tailor interventions to their business. For example, improvements to retail inventory management helped minimize retail returns, and relatively small tweaks to the production process and facility immediately reduced waste in the factory. In total, Byblos reduced its food waste by 29 percent and saw an aggregate payback over 0.3 years (Provision Coalition 2017).