Whether you’re a consumer or a business owner, a waiter or a farmer, you’re probably wasting food. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that “one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted”. That’s an enormous amount, especially considering that there are 795 million people in the world who are starving. Wasted food equals wasted resources and money. As National Geographic’s Elizabeth Royte puts it, “Wasting food takes an environmental toll as well. Producing food that no one eats—whether sausages or snickerdoodles—also squanders the water, fertiliser, pesticides, seeds, fuel, and land needed to grow it”. Not to mention the problems of decomposing organic matter and its effect on the environment. Luckily, it’s a problem we can solve, or at the very least reduce, together.
#1 Donate to Charity
Much of the food that’s wasted never even makes it to our plates. Perfectly good produce is rejected by supermarkets because they fail to meet draconian standards. “Ugly” fruits and vegetables are not sold in grocery stores for fear that consumers will refuse to buy them. Rather than throwing all these in the dumpster, they could be donated to charities by farmers and supermarkets. Food deserts could really use fresh fruits and vegetables, and that would ensure that people are not only fed, but nourished adequately. 1 in 9 people go hungry. 3.1 million children die of hunger, and poor nutrition is one of the leading causes of death of children under 5 years old. The current food waste in Europe alone could feed 200 million people.
#2 Portion Control
Luring consumers to restaurants by advertising a huge plate of food is sadly too common. Consumers order meals at restaurants that fill plates to the brim, with much of it thrown out at the end of the meal. Or people cook too much and get bored of the leftovers. My mother sometimes failed to realise just because we had enough Couscous for a week doesn’t mean we want to eat Couscous for week.
On a large scale, by monitoring their waste over time, managers at grocery stores need to stop over ordering. It’s also been proven that smaller plates and utensils make people feel fuller quicker. A smaller plate means that you might have less fries with your burger or be more conscious of the portions at a buffet. Food weighing scales can also be used to calculate the ideal portions in the right proportions. These are changes both restaurants and consumers can make.
#3 Keep Track of Waste
When the food waste has already been processed for consumption, it’s harder to keep track of it. While places like convenience stores have the ability to scan the barcode and have their inventory show how much they throw out, it’s harder in restaurants and cafes where the hectic pace usually means waste is simply thrown out to clean and use the plate.
Using a counting scale or checkweighing scale to record results is the best way to keep a detailed record and audit your kitchen produce accordingly. The tare function will come in very handy to subtract the weight of the plate. Seeing how much food and money is wasted can spur big stores and restaurants alike to make adjustments to avoid waste. Meanwhile, if consumers do something as simple as putting food waste in a trash bag separate from regular waste, they can see the impact it has on their household finances.
#4 Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose
Any “green” or vegetable waste should be composted. “Ugly” produce or “defective” foodstuff can be used in a variety of things, from juice to soup when not donated to charities. Leftovers should be eaten or even reused (many recipes can help you, for example, fry rice or save time by having leftovers). Some of the waste can be fed to livestock to save cereal. Grocery stores can take steps such as only throwing out damaged items rather than the entire box (like eggs), or donating the remaining edible portion. Stale bread can be toasted or French toasted (French Toast was actually created because people couldn’t afford to throw bread out, however stale it had become).
Making people realise a food waste problem exists, and then providing access to resources about how to minimise the wasting, is key. For example, teach people about the benefits of composting. Awareness campaigns like BBC’s do wonders to show consumers how to avoid throwing out perfectly good fruits and vegetables. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has already proven in his series ‘War on Waste’ that consumers are willing to eat produce previously considered unfit for sale. Informing people about how much they waste in terms of both food and money, as well as giving them the means to donate food may be another piece of the puzzle.
Bringing awareness to the massive amounts of waste that businesses generate is also necessary: if consumers let supermarkets know they will not stand for waste, it will force a change. Raising awareness of charities and shelters who could use the food, teaching people smart shopping and cooking habits and encouraging people to eat or donate leftovers are all ways we can educate ourselves and people around us.
Teaching good habits goes a long way. Producing cooking shows about using leftovers or which foods can last longest in your pantry might spur consumers to change their buying patterns. Teaching people to interpret sell dates and which symptoms of spoilage they can ignore (like bread or cheese having a hard outside when the inside is still good) can also reduce waste.
In developing countries, the problem is often a lack of good infrastructure. Not enough refrigerated facilities and non-adapted transportation can cause food to go bad or get damaged before it reaches market stalls. Some marketplaces also lack refrigeration, causing the products to go bad there as well.
The problem can’t be solved by technology alone, but it can raise awareness and help us fix some oversights. Israeli tech firm BT9 has developed a system to keep track of perishable items during transportation and alert the users if any problems arise. Specialised software allows people in restauration and hospitality sectors to analyse and record food inventory and waste to make their kitchens more efficient, like the one made by tech company Winnow. There is even an app, Olio, than can connect you with people interested in food you have, like too many leftovers from a catered event. Olio could work on a regional or global level, connecting charities and businesses.
Weighing scales can also be used to monitor the amount of waste. Digital scales are now using specialised software that can track ingredients and waste and calculate the total weight and cost, as well as estimate the amount of food one might need based on recipe yields and previous waste data. Seeing a simple graph showing the loss of money and food in plain terms can allow everyone from waiters to owners to realise there is a problem and make changes accordingly. Food waste processing is also growing. Being able to connect the food scale to an inventory system saves a considerable amount of time staff can better use elsewhere. Consumers should also invest in technology, whether it’s a better fridge or an app that lets you know if anything is expiring soon.
Food waste is not an insurmountable problem. But for all these solutions to be implemented, we need to care enough to change a little bit every day. In the end, whether you’re part of a family who’s tired of wasting money or a business at the forefront of innovation, all it takes is for you to care enough to make that change.
Adam Equipment offers a wide selection of washdown scales, checkweighing scales and moisture analysers that cater to personal and commercial food services. Quick, precise and able to withstand exigent cleaning, these food scales can improve your kitchen's efficiency.