As the world's population grows, keeping it fed is an increasingly serious concern. One way to alleviate that concern about food is to not waste so much of it.
The Institute of Food Technologists estimates the world wastes some 1.3 billion tons of food each year. If that sounds like a lot, it is. It amounts to about a third of the food produced each year for human consumption.
The food technologists have launched a campaign – FutureFood 2050 – to reduce global food waste. That 1.3 billion tons of wasted food, they say, could feed 1.23 billion people.
“So much attention is paid to increasing global food supplies over the next several decades,” said Tristram Stuart, a world-renowned food waste activist profiled on the FutureFood 2050 website. “But we waste a third of the world’s food supply already, so one way of tackling food security and the environmental impact of food production is to implement the many ways to more efficiently use the food that we already produce.”
Only the best make it to market
One place where food gets wasted is in the grocery store supply chain. Walk into just about any supermarket and you'll find row after row of beautiful and inviting produce and fruit.
But what about the fruit and produce that comes out of the ground not meeting standards for perfection? It's still got the same nutritional quality but consumers won't buy it, so it often gets thrown out.
The same is true for dairy, meat and other freshly-produced food items. If it is close to the “sell-by” date, consumers will often not buy them. As a result they end up in the dumpster.
Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, is well aware of this problem. Now he's taking this retail principle of always in-stock, cosmetically desirable food and trying to prevent these perfectly edible items from going to waste.
Market for “ugly food”
Rauch plans to sell “ugly food” at a deep discount so that it won't go to waste. He hopes to launch Daily Table this fall in Boston.
Teaming up with Boston-area supermarkets, farms and food service buyers like hospitals and hotels, Daily Table will provide a market for these unloved products. Rauch says consumers will be able to buy bread, dairy, eggs and produce “as is.”
He hopes to achieve two goals. One: food that might otherwise be wasted is prepared and eaten. Second: low income consumers can get access to nutritious food for less than they would spend for processed products or at fast food restaurants.
“Calories are cheap. Nutrition is expensive,” Rauch told the FutureFood 2050 website. “I’d like 1 in 6 Americans to eat what they should be eating. I want the problem to be solved. Daily Table has a potentially innovative and different approach. And if it works, it’s an idea that is scalable.”
Confusion over dates
While some food never gets to the supermarket for cosmetic reasons, other food products are discarded by the stores because consumers didn't buy them. One of the reasons for that, the food technologists contend, is confusion among consumers about what the dates on the packaging actually mean.
For example, the “sell by” date is determined by the product's manufacturer or producer. It's the date by which the product should be sold at retail. However, typically one-third of the product's shelf life remains, according to the technologists.
Consumers sometimes confuse the “sell by” date with the “use by” date. That's the date after which a product should be discarded.
The “best buy” date suggests the latest a product should be consumed for maximum quality. However, it is perfectly fine after that time.
According to the food technologists, inconsistency in date labeling and consumer confusion about what those dates mean, lead to unnecessary food waste.
“We have done a horrible job of making things clear to customers on what the terms ‘sell by’ or ‘best by’ dates really mean,” said Rauch. Once that date passes, consumers assume that the food or produce is unsafe to eat, “when of course it’s not.”