Food Waste Every Bite Matters by Theresa Keane
FOOD WASTE- Every bite matters
Food waste affects all pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic and social. It is an issue that has repercussions for all people across all continents and is a significant contributor to our climate change crisis. Food waste accounts for one third of human driven greenhouse gas emissions. Although the majority of people agree that food waste is at best not good and even unethical, we continue in the mindset that food in general is cheap, abundant and easily accessible. This in turns leads to a lack of thought as to how our food actually arrives at our table and how we treat it. In a world where the need for food banks is increasing year on year, where our busy lives dictate and drive our demand for convenience the juxtaposition of food waste and food affordability lie uncomfortably side by side.
Food waste in the home
The stats on food waste are unpalatable. As consumers we are responsible for a substantial amount of food waste. Indeed, according to the EPA every household in Ireland throws out €700 euro worth of food annually. This does not consider liquid waste washed down the sink, like milk, soups, stock etc. The main items thrown out are fruits, bagged salads, potatoes, vegetables and milk. Every household is different, indeed every person in every household is different and what one considers waste may appear to another as an opportunity to create new flavours and new dishes. There are many ways to reduce our own food waste and in turn save money and the environmental impact of food ending up in landfill. In today’s world of economic hardships this is a win win.
Adopting a conscious eating pattern has the potential to decrease food waste in the home, changing our behaviours, building good habits and adopting a mindful approach to what, how and where we buy our food. Planning meals, buying only what we need, using leftovers and storing food properly, will immediately reduce wastage and save money. It makes a big environmental difference too because ‘reducing food waste is the climate action you can do three times a day’ (Odile Le Bolloch, EPA,2020). Changing mindset is the number 1 way to help prevent food waste. Convenience/ supermarket foods have no emotional attachments for us. Buying local and or growing some of our own, being part of a community farm or GYO project gives us a personal connection and has been shown to help us develop ways to use up all the parts of our food. We become aware of the shape, texture, smell and possibilities of our food.
Where to start
1) Pause. Changing our mindset: Before we shop consider alternatives to our norms. Shopping is often habitual, we buy the same things every week and cook the same dishes the same ways. Some of these of course are family or personal favourites, keep them but observe any waste that is generated from the point of purchase. Ask yourself….do we have to peel those vegetables? Can I use the core or outer leaves? Am I going to use all of that size pack? Do I have alternatives at home already? Do I have space to safely store this food? Instead of a shopping list write a list of questions first! Buy it with Care.
2) Manage & Measure; A good task to identify how much and what items you waste is to weigh and cost your waste over a week or even a few days. Before you throw your waste into the bin identify what exactly is being thrown out, weigh it if possible (example: vegetable peelings) and cost it according to your shopping receipt. Add this up and multiply it by 52 to give you an annual cost. Where is the waste coming from? Purchasing? Storage? Over cooking? Waste on plates? Take the time to identify this and your halfway there.
3) Don’t panic! No one expects us to become master chefs. There are however a myriad of ways to change up how and what we serve without learning difficult skills that require a plethora of gadgets and dangerous looking tools. Try and buy vegetables and salads in their whole natural state, rather than prepared as they will last longer, have a better nutritional profile and taste infinitely better. Consider not peeling, particularly spring and summer vegetables, give them a thorough wash and they are good to go. Store salads in airtight containers and plan to use them soon after you buy. Store fruit in a bowl big enough to accommodate them, don’t pile them up. Keep bananas separate they give off ethylene which causes them and other fruits to ripen quickly. If your fruit looks like it is starting to shrivel up, chop it all, mix together and (skin included) make a fruit salad for dessert or lunch or make a smoothie. Buy meat products from the butchers counter where possible, this allows you to dictate how much you want /need to buy. Take back control of your shopping.
4) Learn a new skill; Preservation, pickling and fermenting are ancient techniques that are having their time in the limelight, they are trendy, tasty, healthful, safe and much easier to prepare than most people would think. This is a great way to use up ends and trimmings of vegetables and fruits. There are many great resources online, local workshops, community projects that can teach us how to do these techniques in a safe and flavoursome manner. Meeting new people, joining a community-based project and upskilling will have the knock-on effect of encouraging us all to be more thoughtful when it comes to how and where our food comes from. It’s a win win. Learning to cook without a recipe is a great way to tap into our creativity, and force us to look at what we have and how we can turn it into a substantial healthy meal or snack.
5) Storage and labels; A lot of household waste comes from improper storage. Know your fridge. Know what should go where and in what container. Using glass or see through plastic containers can help us identify immediately what exactly we have. Understanding Best Before and Use By Dates on labels will also greatly reduce our potential for wasting perfectly good food. Best before indicates quality, it is safe to eat after the date but may be compromised slightly in taste or texture and applies to dry foods. Use By Dates refer to food safety and should not be consumed after this date. They can however be frozen (ideally on day of purchase), preserved cooked (which adds a few more days to shelf life) and of course eaten on the final date noted on the label. If you must throw food out, compost it. Food ending up in landfill creates methane and adds to our global warming crisis.
Buy it with Care & Cook it with thought.
Only serve what you need.
Eat before it spoils & save what will keep.
Learn a new skill and compost.
Food waste in Industry
“You cannot manage what you can’t measure”.
• Process and manufacturing waste was almost 500,00 tonnes of food waste.
• Retail and distribution 100,00 tonnes
• Restaurants and Food service 204,000 tonnes
• Households 253,000 tonnes
When we talk of food waste, we often think of the food we throw away after cooking meals or cleaning out our fridges. However, the sources of food waste are far more nuanced than this. Food waste includes lost or discarded food at all stages of the food system. The lifecycle of food follows a continuous cycle, food is produced, harvested, processed, distributed, purchased, consumed and finally managed as waste. Each step in this cycle produces waste of some sort, and the cumulative effect can make the 30-40% food wastage estimates look conservative.
The food itself is not the only thing wasted, the fossil fuels and water used to produce that food is also squandered, the packaging used is in itself a devastating and ever-growing problem. Although waste in the home accounts for the majority of food waste, industry is hot on its heels. Measuring primary food waste is difficult, the true amount is unknown and mostly goes unreported. Food loss as opposed to food waste may at times be out of our control due to weather destruction, unforeseen disease episodes or other natural disasters. Other areas of concern have been highlighted in research conducted by the EPA. One such study found that “189,500 tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year in primary production, with significant issues arising in horticulture because of conditions in contracts with retailers and a lack of ecological farming methods, resulting in the average waste of some vegetables reaching 40%”. Combating food waste is a major focus in the European Union, with the Commission set to propose legally binding targets to reduce waste by half by the end of 2023. This is in line with Sustainability Development Goal 12.3, and is a welcome start to enabling control through data driven solutions and collaborative approaches. More information can be found HERE.
There is good news! Hallelujah! Having a zero-food waste policy in the food service sector has become a buzzword of sorts. The food service and hospitality sector are paying more than lip service to this concept. The industry is making strong strides in their bid to reduce food waste and decrease their carbon footprint. Data from the International Food waste Coalition (IFWC) show food waste has dropped in this sector by more than 20% representing a 7% decrease against 2021 figures. New practices in forecasting, planning, distribution and consumer engagement are driving these structured positive results. More HERE.
Food Safety and Food Waste
“Setting the scene for designing food waste out of your system”
Food safety has been accused of adding to the problem of food waste, this is a misnomer. Food safety is concerned with creating and maintaining a safe environment and a fit for purpose final product through best practice. A significant amount of food waste is a consequence of spoilage and inadequate food safety practices. One way for any food business to combat this is to have a strong food safety culture, (now a legal requirement) weaved throughout the organisation. This continuous approach empowers and informs individuals to think and act in more sustainable ways, ensuring alignment between best practice and daily operations.
Best practice will always include reducing food waste, however, incorporating food waste as a prerequisite alongside your food safety management systems, budgeting and menu design are all great ways to build customer base, generate a good food culture amongst staff and showcase the best of Irish food. Creating a more efficient and streamlined approach to menu design and purchasing will create less waste and save money and often reduce the amount of time needed for preparation before dining. In other words you are setting the scene for designing food waste out of your system. Preparation prevents food waste from the very start. Your processes are set with the intention to eliminate food waste from the beginning.
We at the Food Safety Professional’s Association have members that specialise in food related activities from wide and diverse sections of industry. Preventing and controlling food waste is an integral part of our systematic approach to food safety and an important element for our members and clients alike. Less food waste = more profit
Key takeaways for food businesses
• Build food waste policies into your systems from the start.
• You manage what you measure. Having detailed information on what is being discarded arms you with the ability to fine tune purchasing and adjust practices to minimise waste.
• Don’t normalise food waste- educate staff and management- embrace and build a good food safety culture where food waste is a core concept.
• Consider that food wate is a decision- change our perspective.
• Ensure storage units are working efficiently, implement a pre-maintenance program for fridges freezers etc.
• Encourage creativity and different methods of cookery to save both food waste and energy when designing your menu.
• Source food from suppliers that are in line with your policies
• Avoid over purchasing.
• Avoid single use focus.
“Respect for food is a respect for life; for who we are and what we do”.
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