Today, we produce an estimated four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage, and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30-50% of all food produced is never consumed - It’s why reducing food wastage is a top priority in the food logistics industry today.
While managing both food loss and wastage is critical throughout the supply chain, food wastage is the dominant issue in developed countries at the retail and household level, largely due to modern consumer demand for fresher, less processed foods, which places increased stress on the food supply chain.
Food waste’ can be defined as food that is appropriate for human consumption but which is being discarded either before or after it spoils (FAO 2013). Food waste typically (but not exclusively) takes place at retail and consumption stages in the food supply chain.
Where does food wastage occur?
Understanding where wastage occurs in the food supply chain is a powerful first step in addressing the problem. As much as half of some temperature-sensitive produce is lost post-harvest primarily because of lack of or inadequate access to cold-chain logistics.
The greatest risks for perishable food occur during transportation and handling between mobile and stationary refrigeration points where there are sometimes huge temperature variations between trucks or trailers, loading docks, and storage facilities. Food damage is also more likely to occur in the transport and handling of refrigerated products, rather than at stationary points in the cold chain. If these risks are not effectively managed, the losses at the consumer level are elevated.
Identifying these opportunities for risk management not only addresses the global issue of food waste but also presents an opportunity for huge cost savings within businesses.
Reducing secondary stage wastage in the cold chain
The largest quantities of food are wasted at the consumer end of the supply chain. Although developed societies have substantially more efficient, effective and well-engineered market logistics, the product often does not reach the marketplace (primarily the supermarket) due to product quality and failure to conform to purely cosmetic criteria. This can include reasons such as the packaging being slightly dented, one piece of fruit is ‘bad’ in an otherwise approved bag, or it is thrown out in the warehouse because it had ripened too soon. It has been estimated that retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste per year.
Fresh fruit and vegetables generate the biggest losses, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) around 45% of fruit and vegetables harvested globally are either lost or wasted along the supply chain. This sector is the least regulated and has the greatest opportunity for improvement in refrigeration technology, processes, and practices.
Key areas of food wastage from processor to retail -
- Inadequate temperature and humidity control
- Poor inventory management
- Failure to maintain correct shipment temperature
- Food rejection on arrival due to spoilage
- Configuration of pallets, causing hot spots in containers
- Lack of product traceability
- No means of identifying process failure throughout the product journey
- HACCP deviation - not only for hygiene but also for temperature
Inadequate practices in equipment and monitoring can have drastic impacts on the shelf life and value of food. Cold chain solutions that can provide consistent and accurate monitoring of products as they move along the temperature-controlled supply chain are key to the delivery of high-quality products to the end-user.
Opportunities for improvement
The quality, safety, and shelf life of products can be maintained only if each stage in the cold chain maintains its integrity and accurately records product temperature throughout.
Without a chain of custody data, it is impossible to track if food products have been maintained within suitable cold chain conditions. Many businesses cannot track and report on their food losses by volume or economic value.
Accurate product temperature transparency throughout the cold chain journey enables businesses to identify and make informed decisions on where cold chain conditions have been broken. This improved data collection has the potential to reduce food loss in the supply chain, extend shelf life and tackle wastage in the hands of consumers.