Learn the ultimate recipes to end food wastage
According to the United Nations, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of CO2 emissions in the world, after the United States and China. Specifically, we live on a planet where one third of all the food we produce for human consumption is not consumed. If we managed it better, we would all win because we would be contributing to the food security of more people and at the same time we would have a positive effect on the fight against climate change. In Food Waste and Loss Awareness Month, learn the ultimate recipes to combat food waste and loss!
Loss or waste?
To understand the solutions, we must first clarify that food wastage is comprised of two different phenomena: food loss and food waste. At first glance it would appear to be a minor difference, but the solutions to each phenomenon are very different.
FAO speaks of food losses when the phenomenon involves a decrease in the quantity of food at the production, post-harvest and food processing stages. On the other hand, when the phenomenon occurs at the end of the food chain, i.e. at the retail and final consumption stage, it is called “food waste”. To summarise: the first phenomenon is directly related to producers and wholesalers and the second to vendors and retailers, food service providers and consumers.
SDG 12.3 specifically states to “halve global food waste per capita at retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses in production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”. But how can we achieve this?
1. At the time of production
Harvesting at the right time and choosing appropriate harvesting and handling practices are some of the solutions that can be applied during farming.
Many FAO projects succeed in reducing food loss at the harvest stage just by questioning the most common techniques and introducing new methods. On the other hand, embracing technological resources such as sensors and enhancing the use of data allows us to be more prepared to respond to climatic factors (such as floods or droughts). In this way we would have more tools to prevent entire crops from being lost and to optimise to the maximum the resources used in the production process (such as seeds, water, use of pesticides and fertilizers).
Finally, being prepared to negotiate well in order to be able to send the food produced to the market is fundamental to avoid losses generated by problems during marketing.
2. In the storage period
In principle, making the right decisions during the production process (such as harvesting at the right time) will ensure that the food has a longer shelf life and withstands the storage period.
Another issue that can lead to losses is the way in which food is stored. The storage space must have certain characteristics according to the food in question and sometimes it is necessary to incorporate a reliable refrigeration system capable of guaranteeing that the cold chain of the products that require it is not cut.
Furthermore, a very common cause of food loss at this stage is that the production cannot be processed at the time of harvesting, either because there is no place to do it or there is a lack of coordination between producers and those who process the food. To solve this problem, it is important to encourage the development of linkages through contracts between producers and processing plants.
3. During transportation
To prevent loss in this part of the process we need to rely on good infrastructure and efficient trade logistics. Processing and packaging are crucial in food preservation and losses are usually due to obsolete facilities, technical malfunctions or human error.
And here’s a fact you didn’t know. In many countries, part of the loss occurs during transportation of the products, because the packaging does not adequately protect them. In Bangladesh, for example, tomatoes were traditionally transported from farm to market in large mesh sacks, so many of them arrived damaged. In response to this problem, FAO promoted the introduction of boxes to replace the big bags, which substantially reduced losses and allowed farmers to sell a greater proportion of their goods.
4. In shops
From this stage on, we no longer talk about food loss, but about waste. And you as a consumer have a lot to contribute from now on. In supermarkets and small shops, one of the most common causes of waste is the discarding of products that deviate from what is considered “optimal”. “Ugly” fruits and vegetables are the first to fall because they do not measure up to aesthetic standards in terms of colour, shape and size. The logic is overwhelming: the merchant throws them away because if he doesn’t, he won’t sell them. As you can see, a more flexible and less demanding consumer is a powerful agent in the fight against waste, so we are counting on you!
In addition, retailers and consumers often discard foods that are close to or past the best-before date. In fact, a study conducted by the European Commission estimated that date marking is related to approximately 10% of the total food wasted in the EU.
The solution? Educate all parties involved in the supply chain about the difference between labelling so that they do not mistakenly throw away perfectly preserved food. For example, the difference between a food’s “use by” date (after which it should not be consumed) and the “best before” date (after which its flavour, colour and aroma will be altered, but it can still be consumed without risk) should be made known. If you want to know more about this topic, we invite you to learn more about Too Good To Go’s “Dates with meaning” initiative.
In restaurants, one alternative is to encourage diners to take back what they have not eaten to enjoy at another time. Otherwise, it would go straight to the trash. The ambiance of the hospitality industry and its large buffets also have areas for improvement, although again these are linked to consumer ideals.
Finally, another way to avoid loss at this stage is to process by-products (e.g., use oranges, sell orange juice or marmalade) or redistribute the food to entities that can take advantage of it before it is no longer safe for human consumption. Food that cannot be consumed can be used as animal feed or, ultimately, for compost and as raw material for renewable energy generation.
5. At home
In addition to understanding the difference in labelling dates, it is key to consume foods with the earliest expiration date first. It is also recommended to consciously plan food purchases to avoid excesses and absent-mindedness, and to maintain order in pantries and the refrigerator.
What did you miscalculate, and do you have an abysmal amount of food left over? The solution is never to throw leftovers in the bin: you can always freeze them or give a portion to someone else. If you are good at cooking, you can turn the leftovers into a meal for the next day. For this purpose, we recommend this practical book with recipes for making the most of them. Not to be missed!
- Interview with Mette Lykke, CEO of Too Good To Go. (CEMAS Magazine)
- Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste (FAO)