We all like food, that’s a given. We all have an interaction with food every day, that’s a fact. However, we don’t use 100% of the food we have. So the goal of food waste reduction would be to use our food until the very last bite.
It’s called a food waste story because I’m going to tell you the story of food from the minute it is harvested, until the minute we eat it. However, I want to start off by talking to you about food and family. Every year, my family and I gather together and we make a huge Paella, and let me tell you we do not waste a single grain of rice! My grandmother used to be the glue that kept us all together. She would always say “You must finish each mouthful, we do not waste food!” She must have installed something in me about food waste all those years ago as now I work as a consultant fighting against food waste and trying to find solutions to this global problem.
Three main concepts
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 5000 million tons of food, or in comparison, the bowing 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.
•It works out to be more than 20 thousand euros wasted each week by a big supermarket in the high season (and this is the waste only from Strawberries!).
If food waste 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 the 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! If we check how much we waste per person per year, the US is the leader, Canada second and Australia (which surprised me a little) is third.
Phases of supply chain
There are 5 phases to the supply chain, however I will break it down into 3 phases for the sake of this blog post. Agricultural production, post-harvest handling and processing (when you pack the food) is the first phase. The second phase is the distribution from the moment it leaves the production until the consumers purchase it at the supermarket, and finally the consumption by us! A huge 68% of food waste happens in the harvesting phase, 12% in the distribution and retail phase, and we are wasting 22% 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. However 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.
Phase 1: Production, Post Harvest & Processing
•The growers don’t have enough labor, fewer people want to do the backbreaking work of picking food (fruit, vegetables, etc). So often food is left to rot in the fields.
•There is a lack of proper preparation and refrigeration once the food is harvested or picked, they don’t have enough resources.
•There are delays on shipments, therefore the weather (food kept under the hot sun) can deteriorate the food before it gets shipped to the precooling.
•Inaccurate measurements of stock from the growers. A lot of the time they don’t really know what’s happening in their processes and therefore cannot take an accurate inventory.
•Growers should start to conduct food waste audits. To identify inefficiencies and improve the processes.
•They must set food waste goals and advertise this in some way, as a positive marketing tool.
•They should align with the date labels.
•They can adopt industry best practices and implement them.
The government can also find solutions to prevent food waste. They 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).
Phase 2: Distribution & Retailer
This phase starts the moment they hand the produce to the retailers up until the moment we eat the food as consumers.
•We are demanding more beautiful food! So if an item doesn’t look perfect (or even just appealing!), the retailers don’t display the item, they throw it away.
•Another problem is that the retailer’s over-order produce, to show abundance in their stores. Therefore, much of this food ends up unbought and then wasted.
•They don’t handle the product properly in-store, for example, no refrigeration, therefore food spoils a lot quicker.
•They can invest in alternative solutions that link to the previous solutions that the growers have. For example, they can continue the 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).
•Also, 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.
•They should also adopt software that allows them to advertise the food that they aren’t going to sell (for example, the app ‘Too Good To Go’).
Phase 3: Consumption
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 (find references in below link to my slides). If we waste half a kilogram of Beef (because we think it’s out of date), this is equivalent to wasting the same amount of water as spending 6 hours in the shower! Unfortunately, the carbon footprint is much more impactful at the consumer phase than in the growing phase.
8 hacks we can do as consumers to fight food waste:
Hack#1: Frequent trips to the grocery store. Only buy what you need.
Hack#2: Create a list! And stick only to what you need.
Hack#3: Store food correctly. Use the proper drawers in the fridge for the correct products.
Hack#4: Keep things organised! Do not employ the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality.
Hack#5: Buy ugly! It’s just as nutritious as the good-looking produce.
Hack#6: Use leftovers. From blending it up in a smoothie to freezing things.
Hack#7: Understand date labels. Use by and best before dates.
Hack#8: Recycle all the food you can! Some of the best dishes in Spain are made from leftovers, for example, the delicious Croquetas!
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.
My advice; do as my grandmother did and spread the word, teach your children and lead by example.
Feel free to check out my slides from my presentation here: https://onedrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=8FC0A97D541A7C50!26548&ithint=file%2cpptx&authkey=!AGfBa1-sdoMHAUk
After getting his Agro engineering degree in Madrid, he knew that he wanted to do something applied to an industry that really solves problems. He has had the opportunity of collaborating with the best people in fresh food supply chains while he worked in the US, China, and Spain. His Ph.D. focused on how to make a more efficient cold chain for fresh food to help companies reducing costs.
He has been involved with some awesome projects around the globe involving leading companies and retailers such as Walmart and the US Department of Defense. He is now a seasoned and consolidated fresh food supply chain consultant and just launched his consulting firm – The Fresh Impact – where he is doing what he loves to do, not only helping food companies saving costs, but giving talks about food waste and spreading the word about why it is so important. For the moment at least he is with us here in Spain, but this not the end, just another step in his journey.
What do you do to combat food waste in your home? Tell us below, we want to know!