The problem of food waste is a huge issue that isn’t going away. It is estimated that 33-50% of food produced globally is never eaten, and it occurs at all four stages of the food supply chain. So, why does it happen and what can we do about it?
The first causes of food waste are seen during production. Crops are often damaged by pests or severe weather, rendering produce wasted before it can even be harvested. The machinery used in production is also often at fault, damaging produce or harvesting unripe fruit and vegetables.
After production comes processing, and there are many ways in which food is wasted at this stage too. If stored incorrectly, pests and micro-organisms can fester, leading to rotting. Unhygienic or clumsy handling can cause shrinkage and inedibility, and food safety regulations identify food deemed to be unfit for human consumption, and this must be disposed of.
When the produce reaches the supermarket shelves, uncertainty over food expiration and sell-by dates often leads to early disposal of perfectly good food. The visual standards that we expect of our food is also a big factor in the amount of food that is wasted; between 40-60% of fish caught in Europe is discarded for this reason.
Once we get our food back home, we’re a big part of the problem. All too often we throw away food too early, believing it to be spoiled or to be scraps (due to inefficient peeling and chopping). We’re also guilty of buying too much food, not using it before it spoils, or incorrectly storing or cooking what we’ve bought.
Now we know some of the causes of food waste, we can take a look at what we can do to reduce it.
On an individual level, we all need to be more careful to avoid over buying at the supermarket. One way of doing this is to make a shopping list and double-check what we already have in our cupboards at home.
It’s also really important that we become more aware of use-by dates, and either avoid buying food with short dates if you know it is unlikely it will be used in time or, better still, store these foods in the freezer for use at a later date.
Another great idea, with the benefit of saving yourself time in the future, is to batch cook your meals and freeze your leftovers for a future meal; ideal for when you may not have the time to cook.