I recently found myself back in the same food science laboratory where I started my career more than three decades ago in research & development. After spending time in the lab talking to a group of new scientists and engineers, it’s as clear to me today as it was 35 years ago that I love what I do. And, I love that science, technology and innovation still drive our future by helping us address important global issues like food waste.
By applying advances in technology and harnessing data collection, it’s possible to address challenges earlier in the food chain and streamline operations before food is even produced and reaches the consumer. You can start to make changes now:
- Data predicts what is impacting waste habits. Today, we have 2 billion people globally suffering from insufficient nutrition. With the number doubling in 2050, understanding the issues and numbers impacting food waste is critical. From transport to processor to retailer to consumer, food waste is happening at every step in the supply chain. We need to start somewhere, and it starts by collecting the data, doing the math and identifying opportunities to make a difference.
- It’s not just what you buy or consume, but the resources used to put it on your plate. We aren’t just losing food, we’re losing resources. When food is wasted, we lose everything that went into producing and transporting the food. Consider the fresh water, fuel, fertilizer and even the emissions that were part of the process. To give you an example, in the beef industry, the majority of energy used actually happens in food production (63 percent) and then consumer use (27 percent)*. By leveraging data collection and tracking technology, food manufacturers can configure their supply chain systems to intelligently produce and buy what they need. During the production process, there are many opportunities to use predictive technology to track production and operations to flag food waste, improve production and processing practices and drive better efficiency and energy and water use.
- Better technology and packaging means better food safety. Food waste in developing countries is mainly due to inadequate storage and poor transport links to markets and processing plants. Food waste in more developed countries is more common when the consumer brings food home from the store. I believe that there are many innovative packaging ideas that can help protect food safety and prevent food waste around the world. By focusing on things like shelf-life extension for better, longer storage, packages that allow a consumer to just use what they need without preparing more than necessary or lighter, thinner packaging for improved transportation drive a better, safer food supply.
So, I come to you with a challenge. What can you do to implement change and reduce food waste?
*National Cattlemen's Beef Association and their Sustainability Assessment in 2012.