Food Waste – the Problem
Food waste is a growing global issue, with 1.3 billion tons of food - as much as a third of the food that is produced on the planet every year, and worth an estimated $750 billion -going in the bin each year, says the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.
Apart from the ethical issues of such loss when an estimated 800 million people go hungry each day, the economic and environmental implications are enormous. It means more than a quarter of the world's entire agricultural land is being used to grow food that nobody eats!
A big part of the problem – in the West particularly – is that food has become extremely cheap. During times of shortage, such as the Second World War, families would not waste anything, if it smelled right it was fine.
Unfortunately we are a more risk-averse society now. Retailers and manufacturers are worried about being sued for selling bad food, and the public learn about health scares such as, listeria, and E. coli in the media and throw anything out rather than take a risk.
Today consumers are much more willing to throw something out. How can this be avoided or at least reduced?
Can Processing Help...or is it Part of the Problem?
The amount of food being processed is increasing every year. So the complexity and variety of process methods is equally diverse.
‘Processing’ can mean simply washing and grading (and in some cases coating) of fresh produce through to preparing multi-component ‘ready to eat’ meals containing a complex mixture of meat, vegetables and sauces – or other combinations (even salads).
This means the opportunities for contamination or waste due to poor practices or cleaning regimes are very great. In fact many of the ‘food scares’ in supermarkets are caused by errors in preparation – for example allowing E. coli into dairy and meat products.
In the process environment new anti-microbial surface treatments and cleaning methods, including Clean In Place (CIP) are now available. One of the latest technologies becoming popular is High Pressure Processing, which is claimed to preserve texture, quality and taste and improve shelf-life and stability. New hygienically designed machines, sterilization processes, improved CIP technologies and surface coatings – including some with nanotechnology - have all helped to reduce food waste during processing
In the next article we will examine the claims made for High Pressure Processing and see exactly what can and is being achieved – and take a critical look at what the processing sector needs to do to reduce food waste.