The goal of food waste reduction would be to use our food until the very last bite. It is very difficult, but the good news are that we can start taking actions to get close to the zero waste.
Every food has its own story from the minute it is harvested, until the minute we eat it. If we can read that story and measure it, we would be able to minimize the waste.
First we have to differentiate between the food that is lost or wasted:
Food loss: The food that never gets to you from the moment it is harvested. For example, Romaine lettuce leaves that get left behind as the retailer only sells the Romaine lettuce hearts.
Food waste: The food that gets to the end of its life, ie, in your fridge that you don’t eat. It has been fit for consumption but does not get consumed.
Food wastage:Often food has spoiled but it can be for other reasons such as oversupply due to markets, or individual consumer shopping/eating habits. Food wastage refers to any food lost by deterioration or waste. Thus, the term “wastage” encompasses both food loss and food waste.
Yearly we produce over 5000 million tons of food, or in comparison, the Boeing 747 airplane weighs 183 tons, it would be equivalent to 29 million of these planes, we waste 30% of that food! Which would be the same weight as 9 million Boeing 747 planes.
If we check how much we waste per person per year, the US is the leader, Canada second and Australia is third.
If food wastage was a country, it would rank 3rd in the carbon footprint, it would be the 3rd CO2 emitter in the world. The water used to grow this food equals 74 million Olympic pools, the land it uses is equal to 27 times the surface of Spain, all just for food which is never going to be eaten!
Supply chain phases
Food is wasted or lost across the different stages of the supply chain in different percentages approximately.
Production, post-harvest handling and processing: 68%
These numbers are considered globally, however, high-income countries are wasting up to almost 40% of food at home and low-income countries are wasting a lot at the beginning of the supply chain because they don’t have the technology and resources that we have. Yet in contrast to the high-income countries, low-income countries don’t actually receive as much food as the higher-income countries in the first place, so they don’t waste as much at the consumption stage.
There are a number of challenges on the supply chain that cause food wastage, for example the lack of enough human resources that causes food to be left in the fields, poor cold chain solutions, meaning not a proper temperature for the food, too long times under unwanted temperatures and no measurements of operations at all or inaccurate measurements.
Retailers often don’t handle the product properly in-store, for example, they don’t use refrigeration for fresh produce or they over-stock the shelves in excess, therefore this food ends up unbought and then wasted.
The market is demanding beautiful products leaving behind the not regular and imperfect food.
We as consumers often buy more than we need and end up wasting a lot of this food. Also, we end up buying food which is near to it’s spoiling date, so after purchasing the product should last 5 days, however, it only lasts 2 days so we are unaware when purchasing what the real expiry date is as the retailers are also unaware too. 80% of Americans and 20% of UK citizens don’t understand the date labels and throw things away as they think they are out of date.
The governments have obligations to conduct further studies in the supply chain. Also, they must standardize the date labels (best before and use by) as many people get confused by them. Use by is meant to indicate food that could be poisonous after that date (for example, a precooked shellfish dish).
From growers to retailers, they should start to conduct food wastage audits. To identify inefficiencies and improve the processes. They can invest in alternative solutions such as freshness prediction, so when it arrives at the store they can predict what the remaining shelf life is and how to store/display it correctly according to this (inventory management).
Some of the leaders in the industry are starting to have dedicated people to manage fresh foods so they are aware of what is happening with the produce.
Retailers have to sell imperfect products! This is obvious and is already happening quite a bit, for example in France it is mandatory they have to display and sell imperfect products.
Governments and retailers should enable channels that allow the use of food that is not going to be sold in the supermarkets, such as donation programs or apps that facilitate the people to access to the food in more affordable manner.
Some companies are fighting against food waste. ‘Too Good To Go’ (you can buy leftover food from restaurants and shops for a small price). And imperfect foods ‘Imperfect Foods’. My company The Fresh Impact are trying to solve the food waste problem and create solutions.