POSTHARVEST FOOD LOSS OR FOOD WASTE?
Recently issues of global food losses and food waste have
been making the news, with estimates of 30 to 40% of all the food produced on
earth going to waste before it can be consumed. Global food losses and waste (sometimes referred to as FLW)
vary widely depending upon the type of food, and can occur on the farm, and
during postharvest handling, food processing, storage, distribution and
consumption (Gustavsson et al 2011).
The Postharvest Education Foundation is involved in work to
address both postharvest food losses and food waste by providing information,
advice, training and mentoring of young professionals who are involved in the
fields of agriculture, horticulture, home economics and food processing.
Postharvest food losses - occurring at the production,
harvest, postharvest and processing phases - are the most important source of
FLW in developing countries, due to poor infrastructure, poor temperature
management, low levels of technology and low investment in the food production
systems, especially the cold chain.
Key factors affecting food losses and the gaps in
knowledge/skills that we have identified:
understanding of harvest indices of plant foods and how maturity is related to
quality and shelf life.
sorting and grading practices during preparation for market, allowing damaged
/decaying foods to enter the supply chain and to spread decay to other foods.
temperature management and lack of control of relative humidity, leading to
shriveling, wilting and deterioration of perishable foods.
quality packages which provide little or no protection during handling,
transport and storage.
in transport to market without proper storage (cool storage for perishables,
drying of staple grains/beans/legumes before storage).
lack of education on appropriate postharvest handling practices and
technologies, leading to rough handling, mechanical damage, improperly handled
mixed loads, and food safety concerns.
of the utilization of sustainable, cost effective postharvest practices,
leading to high levels of food loss on the farm, and in wholesale and retail
waste is more of a problem in industrialized countries, most often caused by
both retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the
trash. According to a SAVE
FOOD Initiative report, per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg/year
in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South
and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg/year (Gustavsson et al 2011).
Key factors affecting food waste and the gaps in
knowledge/skills that we have identified:
and over-grading on the farm and in the packinghouse, based on strict
guidelines that have more to do with appearance (color, size, shape) than
nutritional value or eating quality, leading to higher discards of edible
choice of packages and packaging materials, with focus on cosmetic features
rather than on strength, cleanliness, ventilation, moisture control, etc.,
which would help extend shelf life.
on long term cold storage, refrigeration and freezing, leading to development
of off-flavors, chilling injury and freezer burn, causing discards of
improperly stored foods along the supply chain.
or unnecessary “sell-by” or “use-by” dates, based upon cosmetic changes or
inventory management schemes rather than on food safety concerns, leading to
waste of edible foods at the retail level.
of education regarding proper packaging, cooling/cold storage, storage of
cooked foods and reusing left-over foods, leading to increased discards of
foods in the home.
The UN FAO SAVE FOOD Initiative report summarizes the issues
and highlights the need for taking action (Gustavsson et al 2011). The report distinguishes between food loss
and food waste and is available online for free download.
WHY ARE POSTHARVEST FOOD LOSSES AND FOOD WASTE SO
This is a big, complex question that remains to be answered
satisfactorily. One way we
might be able to get at some of the answers is to ask instead: Who stands to
benefit from maintaining the status quo of high food losses and waste?
Consider this - High levels of food losses and food waste
create continuous demands for:
seeds, fertilizers, land, water and other inputs used for production
packages, packing materials, plastic bags, etc. used to package foods
of the transportation (trucks, drivers) used for distribution of food products
food warehouses, cold storage and/or food processing facilities
traditional food markets and alternative marketing outlets (internet, CSAs
volumes of sales of foods at wholesale and retail markets, food service
companies and restaurants.
For more information and recommendations:
Gustavsson, J. et al. 2011. Global food losses and food
Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Creating a Sustainable Food
Future, Installment Two. Lipinski,
Hanson, Waite, Searchinger, Lomax and Kitinoja - June 2013
HLPE 2014. Food Losses and Waste in the context of sustainable
UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and
Nutrition. July 2014
Kitinoja, L. 2016. “Innovative Approaches to Food Loss and
Waste Issues”. A Frontier Issues
Brief for the Brookings Institution’s Ending Rural Hunger project.