Food Waste: What You Need To Know

food waste

Food waste is a rising global concern. The FAO estimates that one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. That’s approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food each year!

Food waste statistics

  • Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialised countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.
  • Fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers have the highest waste rates of any food.
  • The amount of food lost or wasted each year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop.
  • In developing countries, 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.
  • Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.

Click here for more food waste statistics from the FAO.

The food supply chain and food waste

Food waste occurs at each stage of the food supply chain from farm to consumer. The type of food lost, and the amount differs at each stage.

There have been countless reports on the amount of food lost and wasted during the food production cycle, including reports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). However, there is no certainty behind how much is actually lost at each stage of the food supply chain.

Farm

The first step in the food supply chain has its role to play in food waste. In this step, fresh produce suffers from the most loss.

Dana Gunders from the Natural Resources Defense Council explains that “At the farm level, food loss falls into two categories: (1) food that is never harvested, and (2) food that is lost between harvest and scale” (Gunders, 2012, p.7).

The main causes for food waste in farming are:

  • Too much produce planted: The nature of farming makes it difficult to grow the exact amount of produce needed. This can often lead to too much being grown.
  • Damaged plants: Crops and other produce can become susceptible to damage from pests, diseases, and the weather.
  • Consumer and market demand: If demand for produce is low, some crops will go unharvested to save on labour and transport costs.
  • Food safety scares: Outbreaks of food-borne diseases in raw products can lead to produce being unharvested to ensure food-safety is met.

Post-harvest

The journey produce takes between harvest and retail stores or processing plants can also be subject to food waste.

The main culprit behind food waste during the post-harvest stage of the food supply chain is culling.

Culling is when the produce is checked for quality and appearance. Food stuff which does not meet the desired criteria is often discarded, even if they are perfectly edible. However, sometimes fresh produce which is degraded through culling is often used in food processing or animal feed.

In some instances, the amount of food wasted due to culling can be quite concerning. For example, a large tomato-packing house reported that in mid-season it can fill a dump truck with over 20,000 pounds of discarded tomatoes every 40 minutes! (Bloom, 2011).

During this stage of the food production cycle, food loss can occur due to improper storage, mishandling, and pest infestations.

Processing

Food processing facilities also contribute to the waste produced within the food supply chain. A study conducted by the European Commission estimates that around 39% of the total food lost in the food supply chain comes from manufacturing.

Gunders (2012), explains that the majority of food waste created in food processing is down to trimming “where both edible portions and inedible portions are removed from food”.

Food waste can also occur in food-processing through:

  • machinery problems;
  • food safety issues;
  • damages to products and packaging;
  • over-production.

However, it is important to note that some of the losses created in food processing are difficult to avoid or predict.

food waste in food processing

Click here for insights regarding legislation, food safety regulations, and pest control solutions for the food-processing sector

Transport

Transportation also lends a hand in contributing to the waste produced in the food supply chain.

The main culprit behind food loss in this area is through improper storage whilst transporting goods. Grace Communications Foundation state that perishable foods are particularly vulnerable to food loss due to the need for refrigeration and transportation, particularly in developing countries. To add to this, pest infestations in shipping containers as well as food spoilage from sitting too long at loading docks leads to the occurrence of food loss.

It is also believed that the main culprit behind food waste during transportation is through the rejection of perishable foods. If another buyer can’t be found, large amounts of food can be thrown out.

Food retail

Food retail companies play a huge role in the amount of food waste created each year. It is estimated that in the US alone around 10% of the food supply in food retail is wasted.

Gunders (2012) explains that food retail companies often use food waste to monitor the success of a store. She states that a store with low waste numbers is a “sign that they aren’t fully in stock and that the customer experience is suffering”.

Food waste in food retail occurs from:

  • overstocked product displays;
  • imperfect produce (irregular size, shape, and colour);
  • over purchasing;
  • expired sell-by dates;
  • damaged goods;
  • unpopular items;
  • outdated promotions.
Food retail and food waste

Click here for insights into the food retail sector and the importance of consumer protection

The consumption stage

On top of the amount of food waste accumulated throughout the food supply chain, the consumption stage also contributes to the total amount of food wasted each year across the globe.

In developed countries, this is a major factor for food waste. The FAO explain that in developed countries more than 40% of food waste appears at retail and consumer levels with cereals, seafood, fruits, and vegetables being the food products suffering from the most loss at this stage.

Homes

Love food, hate waste explain that food wasted within a residential environment is a result of purchasing too much food and not using it before it expires and preparing too much food. They also suggest that the average family of four in the UK wastes around £60 of food each month!

A recent article by The Times also suggests that food waste in households is also a result of fridges being too warm, resulting in fresh and chilled produce expiring too quickly.

Hospitality and food service sector

As with households, the majority of food wasted within the hospitality and food service sectors is created through the purchasing of too many raw ingredients, and preparing too much food.

Wrap explain that “The food sector produces 0.4 million tonnes of avoidable food waste per annum, a further 0.2 million tonnes of unavoidable food waste is produced every year”, which is an alarming amount.

In a report commissioned by Wrap authored by Oakdene Hollins, it states that 920,000 tonnes of food is wasted in the hospitality and foodservice sector each year, of which 75% could be avoided.

The report also explains that around 21% of food waste in these industries comes from spoilage, 45% from food preparation and 34% is a result of consumers not finishing their meals.

food waste and hospitality

Click here to learn about the pest control legislation and food safety regulations affecting the hospitality sector.

Food waste solutions

Reducing the amount of food wasted across the globe needs to be a collaborative effort between governments, businesses and homeowners.

How to reduce food waste

Below is a handful of solutions to help reduce food waste.

Pest Control:

For businesses operating within the food industry ensuring that the correct procedures are in place to prevent pests. The result of this will help reduce food waste from pest damage, and also limit the potential for contamination from pest-borne diseases from insects and rodents.

Food Safety:

Adhering to the correct food safety standards and regulations from farm to fork can play a big part in reducing food waste. Ensuring food safety compliance across the food supply chain helps reduce the possibility for food to become contaminated and the spread of food-borne diseases, which in turn reduces the amount of food discarded as a result.

Education:

Increasing public awareness around this topic can play a big part in reducing the amount of food wasted in homes each year. Some areas which need to be highlighted are:

  • Shopping smart: informing people of the importance of not buying too much food;
  • Correct portions: serving the correct sized portions;
  • Leftovers: save any uneaten food and use it for another meal during the week;
  • Food storage: ensure food is stored in the correct places and at the right temperature; and
  • Expiration and sell by dates: knowing the difference between the two, and when food is still safe to eat after said dates have expired.

Optimising the food chain:

Supporting, and optimising the food supply chain at each stage can help reduce food waste. For example, in food processing, improving systems, processes, and machinery as well as optimising secondary packaging can help with eliminating food waste.

In Europe, food retail companies are implementing certain procedures to help reduce food waste, and in particular, the food lost through culling. Certain supermarkets in Europe are offering customers fresh fruit and vegetables which are considered ‘imperfect’ due to their shape and size but are still perfectly edible. To add to this, they are also offering these food products at a discount price.

Many governments around the world are working to help reduce food waste, and many practices are already in place to do so. For example, in the UK between 2007 and 2012 avoidable food waste was reduced by 21%!

Bibliography