Everyone knows that, sadly, a lot of fresh food is wasted each year. However, most people probably don’t know the actual numbers, and considering that the United Nations reports it as 2.9 trillion pounds every year, that’s downright horrifying. However, the solution doesn’t entirely rest with consumers, either. There is a lot that manufacturers and supermarkets can do to curb these numbers and help keep food safe to eat for much longer periods of time.
Some solutions are quite simple. If manufacturers would keep hold of the trimmings and rejects, that alone would reduce a lot of food waste. While what is left over per item may not be much, consider multiplying that amount for every item made.
Just changing the wording on the due date stamp could also help a great deal. Over the last decade, stores have been shortening the time that food is usable according to the stamps. Many people throw food out because the wording states to “Use By” a certain date, or because they’re mixing that date up with the store’s “Display Until” date. In actuality, the food would last well beyond that date and the stamps are giving too little time to consume it. If the wording was loosened to instead say “Best Before” a certain date, that isn’t quite so rigid but still gives a good heads-up. The food standards agency WRAP, as well as DEFRA, came out with guidelines for food safety labels in 2017 and said that unless there’s a good safety reason behind it, “Use By” should not even be used.
Of course, items that spoil quickly have sooner “Use By” dates for food safety. Some companies are finding very futuristic solutions to the problem that can extend the usability of food. Years ago, the thought of a fresh food label that changes color as temperatures change probably sounded like something out of The Jetsons. But that technology is very real and is being tested now by the brand Sainsbury’s. If products like their ham are kept cool, the label’s color changing from safe yellow to unsafe purple will happen gradually. If it’s not being stored under safe conditions, the label will change more rapidly as the food quickly spoils.
Another exciting concept is packaging the food in a way to better keep it fresh. Finding ways to greatly reduce the oxygen in packaging will preserve it from forming bacteria for a far longer time. Meat can be heat sealed in smoothwall foil and gas flushed, taking the oxygen down to 0% and using carbon dioxide or nitrogen as a replacement. Brands such as Advanta have developed a process using smoothwall aluminum, slow-smoke cooking and vacuum packed packaging to give food such as a pork rib ready meal a shelf life of more than four months.
Manufacturers and retailers can do their part by learning about these and other fascinating developments that can extend the shelf life of fresh food. Someday, as these technologies become more widespread, we may be able to drastically reduce global food waste.