Food losses

I have been pursuing the theme of food wastage and loss for the past few weeks because the problem is much more serious – and complex – than most people would care to admit.

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You will recall that food losses and food wastage are two separate categories. The former occur during the harvest and post-harvest side of food management, while food wastage occurs at retail and consumer level. The Postharvest Education Foundation in the USA has identified the following factors that affect food losses:

  • Poor understanding of harvest indices of plant foods and how maturity is related to quality and shelf-life;
  • Poor sorting and grading practices;
  • Poor temperature and relative humidity management in cold-stores; 
  • Poor quality packaging that provides inadequate protection during handling and transport; 
  • Delays in marketing without proper storage; 
  • General lack of knowledge about post-harvest handling and storage; 

Failure to use sustainable post-harvest practices, leading to high levels of food losses from farm through to retail. When one looks at this list carefully, the severity of the problem becomes all too clear. Each link in the supply chain – starting on the farm – needs to perform an in-depth assessment of the losses occurring at that point. When this study has been done, appropriate measures should be introduced to eliminate or reduce losses.

A considerable amount of damage can be attributed to sloppy handling and ineffective management. Producers can address these problems if they are prepared to put in the required time and effort to create a culture of care among all employees on the farm. The benefits for the producer will come from improved quality and therefore better prices and fewer losses, resulting in more sales. In other words, the return on investment will be more than satisfactory.

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The same principle applies to others in the supply chain: identify the problem areas and introduce the necessary measures to rectify them. A culture of care can be an elusive ideal in the beginning. It usually requires patience and starting from scratch.
But it can be done. And it certainly needs to be!