A guide to war on food waste | Unwrapping the Supply Chain

My last article touched upon the idea of a cluster of waste in supply chains around supplier to buyer interfaces. I portrayed the issue using the example of food waste as everyone can relate to it. I wanted to further the discussion and offer industry level actionable steps.

Bananas are the most wasted food according to a food waste study. Those items travel many miles before they reach their customers and are heavy in water consumption. A chemical cocktail to keep them fresh for so long, although its carbon footprint has been debated as being fairly low. Perfectly edible bananas, bruised or slightly brown are thrown away by supermarkets. You can just walk to your closest supermarket and see how green the bananas are to that is the customer preference. Would it still be the same if consumers knew that 1.4m bananas are thrown away daily in the UK for instance. Retailers as Morrisons or Sainsbury’s have tried to promote the ones that get thrown away the most, single ones, by having a box full of them in shops or encouraging the use of the bananas for baking. Out of convenience shoppers grab a bunch and leave the single ones making them very likely to be thrown away.

In this article I will investigate ways to cut food waste along their supply chain in the case of develop countries. I will cover the aspects of wholesale to restaurant interfaces then the supermarket to households interface.

Certain food items are more expensive to keep fresh and to transport back if unsold than they are to get to thrown away on the spot in the case of a fridge failure or a lorry being stuck in traffic. The US has the most efficient food production system and the most wasteful. The inefficiency is cluttered around interfaces between buyers and sellers. It is no surprise that countries with higher disposable income have a more disregard towards food waste as they can afford to do so. South Korea experienced that when the disposable income jumped so they developed a very advanced system where residents pay according to how much waste they produce

Rigid temperature control:

If a restaurant orders perishable goods, it may happen that the supplier informs the restaurant the food has been in the lorry for too long therefore too hot for too long due to traffic or such unforeseeable event. It is very likely to decide to source from somewhere else unless food quality was never a priority. The supplier will not be paid, the food is edible just not to the client’s standards. As it is costly to drive full and refrigerate goods the supplier will not sold, it is often dumped somewhere. Most suppliers or restaurant do not have the strategy, technology and infrastructure to offer it as lower grade food for a lower price or free to a less picky buyer (charities, vulnerable groups or food factories). Some of those items can be refrigerated to be kept longer by restaurants but do not need to. Hence the safety standards are not compromised. Often the KPIs for refrigeration throughout its transport are lower than the food safety levels to avoid any issue. Again this means that safe and edible food is regularly discarded.

For solving this problem, I propose the following solutions. Creating more infrastructures for lower grade food would allow sale and use of certain items to food productions or charities. This means it would be profitable as still sold and conveniently located and dropped off thanks to the infrastructure.  The infrastructure would also comprehend industries  that are aware that the other grade of food is still sufficient for their products. It would create a funnel for food quality ensuring only very little or no food is left abandoned before reaching its consumers.

Dates on food:

When I moved to the UK I found that all food products had dates on them, even an apple or a banana, and I was very surprised and taken aback. What is the use of those and how do consumers read them? Maybe this was not the case in France as they are very rarely packaged or maybe we assume people can tell when their apple is not edible anymore and it has little to do with a date decided weeks beforehand. Anyway, I started wondering how people viewed these dates and it seems to me that many refer to them to check that their item is still good for consumption. Whatever this date is called best before or sale by many consumers who can afford to would remember that there is a date and discard the item accordingly. For processed food too, the date on the package has left a lot of people questioning whether the food is still edible so the ones with sufficient disposable income prefer to throw it away. The fact there is an expiry date on plastic water bottles should give a hint to customers that it is utter non-sense and those should be ignored.

In fact, those are usually best before dates or sell by dates which never means you shouldn’t eat it afterwards. Those dates indicate food quality or look not safety. Now I realise that my upbringing in a country where eating mouldy cheese is the norm may have instilled in me a profound disregard for expiry dates.

While the option to educate consumers has been tried, it has not been proven very effective otherwise we would not be here today. In my eyes, a more effective tackling of the issue would include getting rid of the dates for all items that are grown as they very evidently look mouldy if they are. For other items, I would recommend switching to a regulated one size fits all safe until and a date after which it should not be eaten.

These recommendations came after I watched a documentary on American food waste (https://e360.yale.edu/features/the_big_waste_why_do_we_throw_away_so_much_food) and realised the extent of the food waste issue is way more than a few wonky vegetables. Moreover, it starts very early in their value chain. It would also use less resources as more food would be sold from less or the same resources. Assuming 1 in every orange is not eaten we need to produce way more oranges than ever needed so if we were to drop to 1 in 5 oranges is not eaten we could reduce the size of the crop and the amount of resources used for oranges. On top of environmental benefits, these initiatives also allow to pay fairer wages to farmers as they won’t need to discard most of their output. Hopefully this has provided my reader with some food for thoughts


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