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Why is food wasted?


Why is food wasted in the supply chain?

In industrialized countries food gets lost when production exceeds demand. In order to ensure delivery of agreed quantities while anticipating unpredictable bad weather or pest attacks, farmers sometimes make production plans on the safe side, and end-up producing larger quantities than needed, even if conditions are “average”. In the case of having produced more than required, some surplus crops are sold to processors or as animal feed. However, this is often not financially profitable considering lower prices.

In developing countries and, sometimes, developed countries, food may be lost due to premature harvesting. Poor farmers sometimes harvest crops too early due to food deficiency or the desperate need for cashduring the second half of the agricultural season. In this way, the food  incurs a loss in nutritional and economic value, and may get wasted if it is not suitable for consumption.

High ‘appearance quality standards’ from supermarkets for fresh products lead to food waste. Some produce is rejected by supermarkets at the farm gate due to rigorous quality standards concerning weight, size, shape and appearance of crops. Therefore, large portions of crops never leave the farms. Even though some rejected crops are used as animal feed, the quality standards might divert food originally aimed for human consumption to other uses.

Disposing is cheaper than using or re-using’ attitude in industrialized countries leads to food waste.Industrialized food processing lines often carry out trimming to ensure the end product is in the rightshape and size. Trimmings, in some cases, could be used for human consumption but are usually disposed of. Food is also lost during processing because of spoilage down the production line. Errors during processing lead to final products with the wrong weight, shape or appearance, or damaged packaging, without affecting the safety, taste or nutritional value of the food. In a standardized production line these products often end up being discarded.

Large quantities on display and a wide range of products/ brands in supply lead to food waste in industrialized countries. Retail stores need to order a variety of food types and brands from the same manufacturer to get beneficial prices. Consumers also expect a wide range of products to be available in stores. A wide range of products does, however, increase the likelihood of some of them reaching their “sell-by” date before being sold, and thereby wasted. When shopping, consumers expect store shelves to be well filled. Although certainly beneficial for sales statistics, continually replenished supplies mean that food products close to expiry are often ignored by consumers.

Why do we waste food?

The simple answer is we buy more than we need and we throw away food that is still perfectly edible. The underlying reasons are diverse: from a change of mind to a change of plan; from an unwillingness to eat leftovers to a lack of knowledge of how to use them; from too little storage space to confusion over whether products can be frozen.

A major study identified more than 30 reasons for food waste in the home including:
  • buying too much – particularly being tempted by special offers         e.g. ‘buy one, get one free’ (BOGOFs);
  • buying more perishable food – often as the result of trying to eat more healthily;
  • poor storage management – not eating food in date order (choosing food on impulse, often driven by ‘spontaneous’ and‘top up’ shopping);
  • ad hoc, rather than methodical ‘spring cleaning’ of stored products;
  • high sensitivity to food hygiene – 1 in 5 say they won’t take a chance with food close to its ‘best before’ date, even if it looks fine;
  • preparing too much food in general;
  • not liking the food prepared -22% of families with children stated that not liking a meal was a cause of food waste; and lifestyle factors – not having the time to plan meals, or having fluid work and social patterns – particularly true of young professionals.

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