By Sam Lewis
Packaging and Refrigeration Innovations, on top of changes in consumer behavior, can help reduce food loss and food waste
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Africa loses around $4.5 billion in food each year, and India doesn’t fall far behind, losing $4 billion worth of food every year. In developing regions, such as China and Vietnam, the majority of food is wasted through poor handling, inadequate storage, and leads to spoilage at various points in the supply chain. FAO estimates that nearly 50 percent of rice in China — and 80 percent in Vietnam — won’t make it to the retail market. Obviously, food waste is a serious, worldwide problem, but is highest across North American and Europe, if those international numbers give you any idea of the problem at hand.
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An extremely effective way to reduce food waste is to improve the product’s packaging. Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) replaces atmosphere inside a package with a guarding mix of gases — oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen—that prolong both freshness and foods’ shelf life. This solution has been shown to be effective over and over again and uses technology, rather than a creation, to solve the food waste issue. In Vietnam, MAP has been used in over 1,000 small-scale farms and lead to big reductions in post-harvest waste, from the previous 30 to 40 percent, down to the current 15 to 20 percent.
Another solution helping developing countries reduce food waste and extend product shelf life is the International Rice Research Institute Super Bag. The bag, when properly sealed, reduces oxygen levels from over 20 percent down to just five percent. This allows live insect populations within the product to drop to fewer than one bug per kilogram of product without insecticides. An added benefit for growers: the germination life of seeds in the bag is extended anywhere from 6 to 12 months, depending on the seed.
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Completely eliminating food waste is a lofty goal and most likely cannot be achieved. However, that doesn’t mean the impacts of it can’t be further reduced and even turned into a benefit. Animal by-products, often incinerated or sent to landfills, are able to be treated with a new technology. The APRE process is able to turn unusable animal part into bio-gas and liquid fertilizer. Even the heat created in the process can be turned into electricity to be used in other processes or sold to outside buyers.
Technology and solutions to reduce food waste already exist, but changing food makers’ — and consumers too — mindsets and behaviors is a difficult task. However, this task is just as important in the fight against food waste as the technologies themselves.