The UK creates the highest amount of food waste in Europe, throwing away an estimated 14 million tonnes of food annually. Statistics released by the European Commission reveal the UK wastes twice as much food as Sweden and Spain, the second largest producers of waste food in Europe.
Each household in the UK throws away an average of £540 of food each year – around one-quarter of the total waste is generated by the commercial food industry. Businesses spend around 5% of their total turnover on waste disposal.
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Where does waste occur?
The Waste and Resources Action Programme, a UK charity established in 2000, has released figures showing where food is wasted throughout the production process. Around 18% of food wastage occurs in the manufacturing sector and 10% in the hospitality and food service industry.
WRAP has also looked into how much waste occurs in individual crops and estimates a massive £30 million of waste is thrown away annually from just two crops: lettuce and strawberries. Around 19% of lettuces and 9% of strawberries are thrown away every year during the production process.
The problem has become so serious that MEPs have voted to reduce the amount of food waste in the EU by 2030. This target isn’t legally binding, but is encouraging the food industry to dramatically reduce the “farm to fork” food waste.
How important is storage?
Food gets wasted quite often because of the lack of care of the product. Storing a food product is a massive part of the process, as it goes through many stages before it reaches your plate. If it’s stored incorrectly at any one of those stages, it can go off and will end up as part of the mountain of food waste.
When food isn’t stored at the correct temperature, it will spoil faster and will then be unsafe to eat, due to the risks of bacteria and food poisoning. Perishable food must be kept at or below 41°F in a refrigerator or cold store.
It should never be stored outside a refrigerator, as it can’t be allowed to reach a warmer temperature at any stage of the “farm to fork” journey. Once it has been stored at the incorrect temperature, it is no good and must be thrown away.
Sustainable food systems
The food industry is trying to reduce the amount of food waste with various initiatives. Improving food transitioning is one way the industry is aiming to make a difference. This means the industry as a whole is looking at ways of moving towards sustainable food systems.
European food systems have been shaped by a series of policies drawn up at European, national and local levels. The policies relate to everything in the industry, including agricultural methods, food production, food safety, trade, the environment and climate, rural development, people’s health, workers’ rights and more.
Despite the amount of legislation that has been introduced, mainly in the 21st century, industry watchdogs claim there is still no coherent overall approach to guide the industry towards complete sustainability.
Giving food to the needy
Supermarkets in the UK are doing their bit by following the lead of their French counterparts: donating unsold food to charities that will distribute it among the needy. In 2016, a new law in France banned supermarkets from wasting food. Large grocery stores were told they must donate unsold food to feed millions of poorer people.
Although there isn’t a law in place in the UK to ban food waste, a number of leading supermarkets are voluntarily donating food to charities to feed needy people. Waitrose said it was continually striving to reduce its waste food – a practice it had undertaken for four years. On average, the chain donates £1.4 million worth of surplus food to charity.
Tesco launched its Community Food Connection in 2014 on a trial basis at 14 stores and it now operates at all of its UK supermarkets. It pledges that no surplus food from its stores will go to waste if it can be eaten. As a result, the supermarket giant has provided more than 1.2 million meals to around 2,400 UK charities and community groups.
Asda works with its suppliers and Fairshare to distribute surplus stock to more than 2,000 charities. To date, the supermarket chain has donated more than three million meals to people in need.
Where does the waste go?
The food that isn’t considered fit for human consumption is sent for the manufacture of animal feed. Other commercial food waste is collected in separate food bins and taken to anaerobic digestion plants, where it is composted to turn it into green energy. This is used by the National Grid to power homes and businesses.
The UK government has pledged to combat food waste. The latest report from the Resources and Waste Strategy suggests the annual reporting of food waste by food businesses. This will find out where most waste occurs and help combat this when it’s avoidable.
If you’re in the commercial food industry, 1COLD’s specialist-designed cold stores can help ensure your food is always stored at the correct temperature, so perishable foods don’t go to waste.