Food waste or food loss is food that is not eaten. The causes of food waste or loss are numerous and occur at the stages of production, processing, retail, and consumption.

Global food loss and waste amount to between one-third and one-half of all food produced. Loss and wastage occur at all stages of the food supply chain or value chain. In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production, while in developed countries much food – about 100 kilograms (220 lb) per person per year – is wasted at the consumption stage. 

Food waste may occur at any stage of the food supply chain – production, processing, retail, and consumption. Precise definitions are contentious, often defined on a situational basis (as is the case more generally with definitions of waste). Professional bodies, including international organizations, state governments, and secretariats may use their definitions.

Among other things, in what food waste consists of, how it is produced, and where or what it is discarded from or generated by. Definitions also vary because certain groups do not consider (or have traditionally not considered) food waste to be a waste material, due to its applications. Some definitions of what food waste consists of are based on other waste definitions (e.g. agricultural waste) and which materials do not meet their definitions. 

Lost food may go to landfills, be put back into the food supply chain, or be put to other nonfood productive uses. 

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Causes, Effects, and Solutions to Growing Problem Food Waste

In the most recent years, food waste has become a complex phenomenon attracting the attention of scientists, consumers, and activists alike. It’s been termed as a global paradox regarding how emphasis is put on agriculture to improve food security and then a third of all the food produced ends up as waste. This is according to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) report in 2013 indicating that the food waste globally sums to one-third of the total food produced for human consumption, about 1.6 billion tons a year.

The reason it’s becoming a huge concern is the economic, social, and environmental costs associated with it. BFCN (Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition) defines food waste as the waste or food losses that occur during industrial processing, distribution, and consumption. Understanding and ending food waste has therefore been a priority among nonprofit organizations and governments which leads us to discuss the causes, effects, and solutions to food waste.

Various Causes of Food Waste

1. Lack of appropriate planning

One of the top contributors to food wastage is a lack of appropriate planning on the consumer part. Sometimes people buy lots of food without appropriately making plans on when and how the food will be prepared for consumption. Coupled with the contemporary schedules of work and appointments, people, therefore, tend to change food preparation plans or fail to remember using it on time.

At times it’s out of most people’s control which leads to the expiry of the foods after which they are thrown as waste. Also due to a lack of appropriate planning, people find themselves having badly prepared food that just doesn’t taste great. It all ends up as waste.

2. Purchase and preparation of too much food

Most of the time, food is also wasted because of purchasing or preparing too much. If one purchases or prepares too much food than is needed, then it’s obvious the excess food on the plate will go to waste. In such scenarios, leftovers and partially used food account for the food that goes to waste.

Alternatively, the partially used food is at times put at the back of the fridge and is never reused. The same applies to excess purchases that end up passing their expiration dates and therefore looks, tastes, and smells bad. At the end of it all, all the excess ends up as waste food.

3. Errors in industrial processing and keeping up with food safety policies

Another biggest driving factor for food wastage is the protocol on food safety. The food safety protocols give no room for error in industrial processing or any other compromise that diminish the quality of the final food products. As such, the confusions and errors during industrial processing of food mean that all food items that don’t meet the set standards are wasted.

Food processing companies have to comply with high food safety regulations and must thus establish no error margins. In complying with the food safety policies, the companies in the sector end up creating waste as any small error means the food will be rejected even if it’s simply due to imperfection in appearance or shape.

Overcooking, production trials, packaging defects, trial runs, and wrong sizes and weights are some of the aspects resulting in imperfection and the eventual rejection of the foods.

4. Managerial, financial and technical constraints

This is mainly a challenge contributing to food wastage in developing countries. The wastage takes place because of the constraints to do with a lack of proper management, inadequate finances, and technical difficulties in the lines of harvesting methods, storage, and cooling problems in adverse weather conditions, processing, packaging, infrastructure, and marketing systems.

5. Over-preparation of food in restaurants, hotels, and the foodservice industry

Most restaurants, hotels, and the foodservice industry alike tend to over-preparing/producing food. While the intention is good especially in anticipation of high customer volume and the ability to not running out of the menu, over-preparation often leads to wastage if all the food is unsold. DC Central Kitchen – committed to the course of reducing food wastage, points out that overproduction in the foodservice industry is the leading cause of food wastage.

Since the foodservice operations lack the ability to quantify the amount of food consumed on average, the kitchens keep producing amounts thought to be enough but most of it is not needed.

Besides, some managers believe producing food in large batches minimizes costs, but in fact, it results in more waste as compared to cook-to-order preparation or cooking in small batches.

6. Over-merchandizing and over-ordering in food stores and supermarkets

The over-merchandizing of food items and products in retail centers, wholesale markets, and supermarkets often result in food wastage. Foodservice operations are habitually more focused on over-merchandizing in food stores and supermarkets by using beautiful and attractive displays thereby creating the idea of abundance in an attempt to promote sales and customer satisfaction.

The overlooked aspect of over-merchandizing is its association with increased food waste. When people buy more than needed, the excess will often end up in the trash bin. Over-ordering also leads to the expiry of food staff with a limited shelf life as some of it will remain unsold.

7. Consumer behavior

Different customers have different preferences and this highly influences consumer purchasing behavior on food items. Particularly, the consumer behavior on focus here is the tendency of having a keen insight for good judgment which results in those who only prefer unblemished vegetables and fruits, and the restrictive must display for shelf-life dates.

Such consumer behavior more often than not contributes to the wastage of food as most of the food items may remain on the shelves till expiry. Also, such consumer behavior tendencies may force foodservice operators in restaurants and hotels to maintain large menu options and high-end services while assuring consistency that mostly leads to food wastage.

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