Why is there so much food waste and loss?
Food loss and waste happens all along the food supply chain. Food can be lost before it is ever harvested, like when a producer deems produce not profitable enough to pick because of market prices or disruptions. This was witnessed across the world at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when some farmers had no choice but to plow under vegetables ready for harvest and donate what they could to food banks. At the beginning of the pandemic, those working along the agri-food supply chain were forced to pivot as demands for food shifted away from restaurants to largely at-home consumption where the logistics of the supply chains and the types of products can differ greatly.
Aside from the pandemic, food loss and waste in the supply chain can occur due to aesthetic issues, e.g., if foods’ appearance doesn’t fit retail standards or pressing food safety concerns, e.g., if a cold chain is broken or does not exist. Food loss can also happen during transportation of highly perishable, temperature sensitive foods, such as meat and dairy products.
At the retail stage of food supply chains, food often needs to be sold before its best before date or the occasion it was made for (e.g. Christmas cookies) it is discarded.
At home, food is wasted for many different reasons, one in particular is that food isn’t consumed before it’s best-before date.
The average Canadian households wastes approximately $18 worth of food that could have been eaten each week, which is equivalent to 3366 calories worth of food energy. All that wasted food adds up to about $1600 per year per household, and that cost does not often include its environmental impact such as the greenhouse gases emitted to produce food that never nourished anyone.
What does a date label (use-by, best-by, or sell-by) mean?
Use-by, best-by, and sell-by labels differ in what they aim to communicate, and understanding each can aid in reducing retail and consumer-level food waste.
Used-by labels are often on highly perishable products such as dairy and meat products that suggest when the safety and quality of the food may be compromised and may not be suitable for consumption after the indicated time has elapsed. Best-by labels reflect peak quality, e.g., ideal texture, flavour and maximum nutritional content, but it is not an indicator of lack of food safety. Sell-by labels are directed towards retailers to indicate when food should be sold by in a retail store. Products past their sell-by dates are sometimes still sold, but often at a discounted rate.
What are some examples of efforts to reduce food waste?
Farmers: The No Taste for Waste initiative features farmers, from fruit to dairy producers, taking action to reduce food waste on their farms, ensuring more food is reaching our plates.
Food Researchers: Provide alternatives to the static date systems, such as labels that change colour to show spoilage, to better communicate to the public the actual state of their food.
Retailers: To address food waste that is a result of visual standards set by retailers, some grocers including Loblaws have started to sell ‘ugly products’ at discounted rates. No Frill’s ‘Naturally Imperfect’ product line consists of fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted due to being misshaped.