Spoilage is a major source of food waste in the U.S., and it occurs throughout every phase of the supply chain. Curtailing spoilage could help reduce the amount of food we waste each year — currently more than 20 pounds of food per person, per month, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Sources of spoilage
Food loss happens at every stage of the supply chain, from point of origin to plate. Some is simple waste — consumers fill their plates with more than they can eat and the leftovers go in the garbage. As sad as that kind of waste is, it’s even more disheartening when the food becomes inedible before it even gets to the consumer.
Food spoilage happens for many reasons:
- Produce may rot in the field if a grower can’t harvest it quickly enough, or decides they can’t make enough profit to justify the expense of harvesting.
- Product may become contaminated or spoiled during handling, storage or processing.
- Transport packaging may fail to adequately protect product from damage and spoiling, rendering it unusable somewhere between production point and retail destination.
- Food may go bad in consumers’ homes if they fail to use it quickly enough or buy more than they can eat.
4 Ways to Reduce Grocery Store Food Waste
Here are four ways companies are using innovation to help food stay usable longer:
#1 – Create more barriers to spoilage
Although it’s in the early stages of commercialization, California-based Apeel Sciences has developed two new types of naturally derived coatings that the company says can protect produce before it’s harvested and while it’s in transit to retail destinations, the New York Times reports. By using fresh plant materials that are byproducts of harvesting and processing, the company creates barriers that trick the bacteria and fungus that feed on produce and cause it to rot. The barriers can extend the usable lifespan of a variety of produce. Apeel’s solutions could work to reduce food waste from the earliest phases of the supply chain all the way to consumers’ homes.
The natural chemical that causes fruit to ripen can also eventually lead to mold and rot. Some retailers have begun testing special strips that aim to extend the shelf life of fruit by absorbing the ethylene that leads to rot. The strips can extend the usable life of produce by nearly a week, and can even be used by consumers after purchase.
#2 – Smart refrigerators
Multiple refrigerator manufacturers have developed “smart fridges” that help reduce consumer food waste in several ways. Some work with an app that allows users to see what’s in the fridge when they’re shopping, to help ensure they don’t buy something they already have. The feature can also help with meal planning, so that consumers know what they have available to use, and what they need to use before it goes bad.
Other smart fridges have built-in computers that keep track of when food will expire and alert you to use it before that happens.
#3 – Better food sharing
Not everyone who wastes food does so blithely. Consumers, restaurants and retailers all want to reduce the amount of food they waste, and ensure food that they don’t need ends up in the hands of people who do need it. Several apps are helping make that happen.
Foodsharing apps help connect people with food that’s about to expire or that’s left over — from outlets such as grocery stores and restaurants — with nonprofit organizations that can get the food to people who need it. There are also foodsharing apps that help people share and distribute foods in their own neighborhood. Can’t use that second head of lettuce you bought before it wilts or that package of chicken breasts before their expiry date? A foodsharing app can allow you to post the availability of these items on a community website so that someone nearby who can use it can take the product off of your hands before it goes bad.
#4 – Tosca RPCs
Tosca RPCs aim to innovate away as much food spoilage as possible during the early stages of the supply chain by doing a superior job of protecting product from damage and allowing perishables like eggs to cool more quickly. However, we’re far from the only company striving to reduce food waste caused by spoiling. Like Tosca, many companies are developing sustainable, eco-friendly ways to prevent food from going bad before it can be used.
At Tosca, we believe reducing food waste is everyone’s job, and so is recognizing the companies, people and products that are helping Americans waste less every day.