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ReFED Launches Insights Engine with Implications for Food Waste: An Interview with Dana Gunders

Posted by Jean Buzby, USDA Food Loss and Waste Liaison in Food and Nutrition Health and Safety
Feb 02, 2021
Hands at a laptop
ReFED's Insights Engine features detailed data, analyses, and up-to-date information on food waste. Photo credit: ReFED

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to advance data-driven solutions to reduce food loss and waste throughout the U.S. food system. ReFED is also a private-sector partner with USDA, EPA, and FDA’s interagency initiative to reduce food loss and waste. The organization has launched a Roadmap to 2030 and a new Insights Engine aiming to help reduce food loss and waste. This interview features insights from Dana Gunders, Executive Director, ReFED.

Buzby: In the United States, over a third of all food is lost or wasted, and this food loss and waste means that all of the fresh water, labor, land, and energy to make this food could have been put to better use. In April 2019, as part of the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative, USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) signed a formal agreement with ReFED, Inc. (PDF, 783 KB) to help provide guidance and support for the joint effort. Can you please tell us about your organization?

Gunders: ReFED was established in 2016 after the release of our Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20%, which was designed as a blueprint for businesses, funders, policymakers, and other stakeholders to take action to address the food waste challenge. We take a data-driven, solutions-focused approach to help solve our national food waste problem, and we recognize that it’s a systemwide issue – we all have a role to play in reducing food waste. Last year, due to COVID-19, we shifted the focus of our work to help businesses, innovators, government agencies, and other organizations overcome pandemic-related barriers that caused an increase in food waste and food insecurity. And now to start 2021, we’re excited to introduce two new resources that can help the food system move from awareness about the food waste problem to action that can solve it.

Buzby: Tell us about today’s launch of ReFED’s revised Roadmap and the new Insights Engine.

Gunders: These are new resources to drive real action toward our collective 50% reduction goal. The Roadmap to 2030: Reducing U.S. Food Waste by 50% outlines seven key action areas across the food supply chain that show where the food system should focus its efforts to reduce food waste. And the Insights Engine is an online hub for food waste data that offers a granular analysis of food waste by sector, state, food type, cause, and impact; a deep-dive review of more than 40 food waste reduction solutions that span all seven key action areas; a detailed overview of the funding needed to implement each reduction solution along with the corresponding return; a directory of solution providers to help bring a food waste initiative to life; and more. Our estimates are based on an analysis of more than 50 public and proprietary datasets, and we’re actively working with businesses and others to gather more data to refine our analysis as the field evolves. We also received input from dozens of experts and practitioners from the food industry, professional trades, solution providers, academia, and more.

Buzby: How will the Insights Engine and Roadmap to 2030 help reduce food loss and waste in the United States?

Gunders: Our vision is that they become a trusted source of data and solutions for anyone interested in food waste reduction, and the foundation of the movement to halve food waste by 2030. We like to say that people can come to our site knowing nothing about the issue and leave with three things to do about it, along with contact information for three organizations that can help. We’re lucky that food waste is one of those issues that people genuinely care about – they have a visceral reaction to seeing perfectly good food being thrown away. But businesses and others don’t always know what they can do to make a difference. These resources can help them. And unlike our original Roadmap in 2016, the new Roadmap to 2030 and Insights Engine are digital-first, so they will be updated on a regular basis – people can find both resources at

Buzby: What is the most important take-away for the food industry to know about the Insights Engine and Roadmap to 2030?

Gunders: The Insights Engine can provide the food industry with the information they need to take action against food waste. And the Roadmap to 2030 offers stakeholder-specific insights to help guide their efforts. We have pages dedicated to different food business sectors – producers, manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants and foodservice. We also have a detailed analysis of the investment required to implement solutions, with a breakdown of the capital required across all seven key action areas. And we’ve got policy recommendations at the federal and state levels, developed in collaboration with our partners at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. In fact, if all of the Insights Engine solutions were implemented, we estimate that the United States would achieve more than a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030 in accordance with our national and international goals.

Buzby: Do you have plans to extend the Insights Engine and Roadmap to 2030 to other countries?

Gunders: All of the information in the Insights Engine and Roadmap to 2030 is focused on the United States. We’ve been approached about taking it to other countries, but at this point, we’re focused on getting this first version out before considering that.

Buzby: Congratulations to ReFED for the launch of the Insights Engine and Roadmap to 2030. Thanks so much, Dana, for your time.

For further reading:
more USDA blogs on the topic of food waste

Roadmap to 2030:

Insights Engine:

This blog series highlights the work of innovators in the food loss and waste world as part of the collaborative effort to reduce food loss and waste, which includes work by USDA, EPA, and FDA and private-sector partners like ReFED to affirm their shared commitment to work towards the national goal of reducing food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030.