Health News Digest

Food is being wasted

September 2, 2019

Too Much Food Is Being Wasted: Let’s Get Smarter About It

By Michael D. Shaw

There is no denying that food waste is a major problem. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization presents key facts, including these…

  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—gets lost or wasted. [A “tonne” is a metric ton (1000 kg), and equals 2204.62 lb.]
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • At retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that overemphasize appearance.

Feeding America works to rescue perfectly fine food products, that would otherwise be discarded. Through arrangements with farmers, they are able to glean produce not harvested, and in one case, saved a large number of good, but improperly labeled chewy bars. These items were scheduled to be discarded, but were re-packaged with appropriate peanut warnings.

Feeding America tells us that 72 billion pounds (32.7 million tonnes) of food is lost each year, not including waste at home. As to food waste at home, this is estimated at 150,000 tons (136,000 tonnes) per day. This yields a staggering 49.6 million tonnes per year. The research breaks things down further…

“Fruits and vegetables and mixed fruit and vegetable dishes accounted for 39% of food waste, followed by dairy (17%), meat and mixed meat dishes (14%), and grains and grain mixed dishes (12%). Remaining foods and dishes each accounted for less than 10% of total food waste: other foods and dishes (mostly candy, soft drinks, and other beverages), salty snacks, soup, potatoes and mixed potato dishes, nuts and seeds, Mexican dishes, eggs and mixed egg dishes, and table oils and salad dressing.”

The term “waste” can be a bit pejorative. After all, food does spoil and food safety issues have been highly publicized. Few Americans would think twice about discarding questionable food items. A useful FoodKeeper App is offered by the Feds. And, while we’re at it, here is the invaluable Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart. Always use a food thermometer!

If you are confused about food product dating, you are not alone. That’s why the USDA has a comprehensive section on the subject. Here are some interesting highlights…

1.     Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by Federal regulations.

2.     Labeled dates refer to product quality, rather than safety.

3.     Besides infant formula, food is generally safe if handled properly and spoilage is not evident. Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor, or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten.

4.     A change in the color of meat or poultry is not an indicator of spoilage.

Then, there is the matter of keeping track what food items you have on hand, to better arrange timely use and purchases. One way to address this—at least for perishable items—is with a smart refrigerator. Relatively new to the market, these high-tech machines can get quite costly, and are considered “smart” since they connect to the Cloud. As such, information is accessible via your phone. You can view what’s inside, set the temperatures, and get alerts for an open door.

Haven’t many of us been at the grocery store, and then wondered if we needed to purchase a certain item? How nice would it be to remotely peek inside the refrigerator or pantry? Is there an alternative to a smart refrigerator for this task?

I was recently introduced to Fridge Eye, a camera system that mounts inside your refrigerator or pantry, and is accessible with your smart phone. The unit snaps a photo of the interior of your fridge or cabinet each time the door is closed, so you always know what groceries you have and which ones you need. The device is water-resistant and features a fish-eye lens.

Let’s close with a quote from Vladislav Svetashkov, Founder and CEO of Fridge Eye:

“Fridge Eye allows people to shop more efficiently, showing them what they already have or need in their respective kitchens and cupboards. Providing functionality once only available in smart refrigerators, Fridge Eye helps consumers save money immediately. Easy to install, monitor, and sync with your smartphone or tablet, Fridge Eye gives you instant insight and intelligence about your health and nutritional habits.”