Food waste occurs at every stage of the supply chain, and the majority of the material and financial loss rests in the hands of the consumer. However, waste still occurs during processing and, for manufacturers, reducing these losses makes both financial and environmental sense.
It may appear that food waste within the processing industry is minimal, accounting for just 2% of total food waste in the U.S. but, in reality, this represents a loss of 1.26 million tons of food a year. Of course, this also means severe environmental and social issues further down the chain, as well as wasted resources during farming and harvesting. There are ways to tackle this issue in the food processing sector, however, and here, we look at how lowering waste can benefit everyone.
Why Is Food Waste in Processing an Issue?
From an environmental perspective, the production of wasted food in America alone is equal to the emissions of 37 million cars. What’s more, an estimated 21% of all fresh water, 19% of all fertilizer, and 18% of cropland in the U.S. is used up by food that will be wasted. The impact of food waste doesn’t stop there and, once that food is wasted, it often ends up in landfills, which creates harmful gases and uses valuable land. In fact, a massive 21% of landfill volume is taken up by food waste alone, making it the largest single component in landfills across the U.S.
From a financial perspective, food waste equates to a loss of $2 billion a year for the processing sector alone, which is just a fraction of the estimated $218 billion that is annually lost in America through food waste across the supply chain. However, those numbers are still significant, and increasing efficiency across the board will ensure cost savings for manufacturers over the long term.
While 63 million tons of food is wasted in America every year, seven million people suffer from food insecurity. This disparity is unsustainable and, while there are potentially fewer opportunities to help this in the processing stage as compared with, for example, the retail or producer stages, it should still be a consideration, on both an ethical level, and also due to the fact that excess food waste casts a shadow over the brands of any processing operator that fails to address the issue. The bottom line is that failing to address food waste in your plant now could very well mean loss of brand trust in the future.
Where Does Food Waste Occur in Processing and How Can It Improve?
There are numerous reasons for food waste in processing, and each must be tackled in its own way. The first reason has to do with machinery issues, which accounts for an estimated 2.5% to 9% of waste in the processing sector and comes from areas such as blockages. There will always be some level of waste, since technical issues can be out of a processor’s hands, but the amount of waste can be reduced by regularly inspecting machinery, identifying potential (or existing) issues, and addressing them in a timely manner. Food wastage caused by the misuse of equipment (as opposed to technical problems), can be tackled through better training programs for operators.
Another cause of food waste in processing is excess production. This is caused by market shifts, incorrect forecasts, or customer cancellation, but the result is the same: unmovable or spoiling produce, which must then be disposed of. Again, this is partly out of the hands of processors, but there are ways to mitigate the severity of the waste. For example, improved communication between manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers could go a long way to reduce the amount of food that is lost through produce sitting in place or being over-ordered.