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5 Techniques to Reduce Food Wastage

by Agritech Digest
5 techniques to avoid food waistage - Agritech Digest

Different techniques that incorporate technology have been found noteworthy, ensuring food wastage is brought to the barest minimum. It is possible to carve out digital solutions that tackle the root cause of food waste and when deployed, can resolve the challenges in those areas. 

By Oyewole Okewole

It is concerning that we globally lose and waste more food sufficient enough to feed the hungry and poorly fed. Approximately one-third (30%) of all food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted. The economic cost of this food wastage amounts to $1 trillion at about 1.3 billion tonnes of losses and waste each year, according to the World Food Programme. Food waste has a profound negative impact on our social, economic, and environmental realities and should be reduced as a matter of urgency.  

In 2022, it was estimated that globally, 691 and 783 million people are plagued by hunger, with about 3.1 billion people without access to healthy diets according to the United Nations. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the food lost and wasted is projected to feed 1.26 billion hungry people annually. Furthermore, food waste accounts for about 38% of the total energy usage in the global food system.

The terms food loss and food waste are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Food loss usually indicates food lost in the earlier stages of the value chain, usually during harvest and post-harvest operations which includes storage, processing, and transportation, also referred to as the upstream sector. On the other hand, with food waste, food fit for human consumption but is discarded downstream, including at homes, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, and others.

Globally, around 13% of food produced is lost during the period between harvest and retail while an estimated 17% is wasted at retail and downstream, according to a report by the United Nations. The Boston Consulting Group also estimates that food wasted is worth $230 billion.

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By 2030, the United Nations plans to ‘halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains.’ While developed economies suffer from food waste (homes, hotels, restaurants, etc.), developing economies experience more food losses (upstream: on-farm, postharvest, and other upstream losses across the value chain).

(Read also – COP28: Resolutions Towards Building a Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems as Bedrock for Climate Actions in African Nations)

For food waste, it is largely believed that one of the major causes is consumer behavioural attitude towards addressing sustainable consumption. However, being conscious of certain actions can limit food waste.  In most cases, these actions are either overlooked or unintentionally neglected for one reason or the other. They include:

1. Buying and cooking only what you can consume.

2. Checking the expiry dates on your food products to determine the time of expiration from suppliers or retailers when buying. 

3. Maximising the opportunity for food banks around neighbourhoods to donate food items through an effective distribution channel.

4. Consumption of prepared, cooked food on-time i.e. avoid delaying time for meal consumption.

5. Proper storage of food items.

Photo Credit: Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Given the foregoing, different techniques that incorporate technology have been found noteworthy, ensuring food wastage is brought to the barest minimum. It is possible to carve out digital solutions that tackle the root cause of food waste and when deployed, can resolve the challenges in those areas. They could be categorised into these under-listed areas.

1. Planning: Digital tools can be utilised to plan your meals/menus, recipes, and quantities to be prepared. In addition, these tools ensure all the ingredients are completely used up during meal preparation. Also, these tools can make suggestions for different food combinations that can be gotten from the leftovers. These tools can help avoid overbuying and excess production, and consequently reduce waste that might be later discarded. The applications can also adjust your recipes based on the demand, availability, and seasonality of the ingredients. Some examples of these tools are applications such as Mealime Meal Plans& Recipes, EroeGo, Eat This Much-Meal Planner, Big Oven Pro and many others. Other applications like Nosh use in-house artificial intelligence technology to track sell-by dates and monitor users’ shopping habits.

Photo Credit: Ello on Unsplash

2. Optimisation: One of the major ways to reduce food waste is to optimise the distribution, consumption, and retrieval of food. Digital applications and platforms for optimisation can help make the most use of the available food; share surplus with those in need and recycle the unavoidable waste. These technologies can help connect with other stakeholders to achieve their purpose while working as a part of a whole system for food waste management. Other connections to these technologies include suppliers, food banks, donors, recyclers, and other customers. Some of these platforms help you source surplus food from wholesalers and consumers and also sell or donate your excess food to those really in need of it. In addition, these applications can help transform food waste into composts to be used as a fertiliser or for other economic uses. Some of the examples of these tools are food-sharing applications. 

According to Faster Capital, Food52 application has a feature called ‘LeftoverSwap’ that allows you to share excess food with people in your local community. AmpleHarvest.org helps you find local food banks where extra food can be donated. Other applications are Too Good to Go, which allows residents to purchase excess food at reduced prices from shops and restaurants. There is also FoodCloud, a social enterprise application that allows food businesses to upload information about their stock, and by consequence alerting charities and food banks to collect and distribute any surplus.

(Read also – Increase Productivity in 2024: 10 Agritech Tools for Farmers in Africa)

3. Education: Technology is playing a role in educating people and raising consciousness about the importance and benefits of reducing food waste. These tools also advise users on actions to be taken to reduce food waste. Some of the applications in this category also help change behaviours, create awareness, and inspire decision-making and action towards food waste reduction and management. For example, wholesalers and retailers can develop online applications or websites for customers to learn about food waste reduction and sustainability. These customers can log in and communicate their verifiable food waste data and sometimes get rewarded. On the other hand, social media, newsletters and emails can also contribute to the education of the public on good waste management. Some specific examples of these applications are ShafeFood: CareFood– an educational mobile application for awareness of food wastage.

4. Monitoring: Technology also plays a vital role in monitoring, storage and disposal to avoid food waste. Certain tools can help you monitor food waste at home using monitoring devices like sensors, scanners, cameras, and others.  Supermarkets also use this technology to monitor the expiry dates of their food items and products to quickly make decisions before they expire and are discarded. The devices monitor temperature, humidity, freshness, colour, moisture content and other properties that can detect early, the possibility of deterioration, and spoilage. For example, Smartkitchen focuses on real-time monitoring of food waste to principally measure and reduce food waste. Smarter’sFridgeCam uses a wireless camera inside the fridge to take a photo every time the fridge door is closed. It helps monitor and plan meals while providing the requisite knowledge for a no-food waste lifestyle.

5. Storage and Preservation: There are applications that can help preserve and store food to prevent waste. For example, FoodSaver applications can vacuum-seal food to keep it fresh for a longer period. Smart Fridges can help keep track of the food stored inside them and also remind you when items are to leave the fridge. The smart fridge combines the operations of planning, monitoring, and education.

In summary, technology is gradually finding its way to help solve the problems associated with food waste and assist in reinforcing the behavioural attitude of not wasting food in many specific and unique ways. This is principally achieved to ameliorate its negative impact on the global economy, environment and our continuous existence. 

Oyewole Okewole. Agricultural Project Development Specialist.

Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

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