Combatting Food Waste

Greg Quast | RLS Logistics

ROUGHLY ONE-THIRD OF all food produced in the world for human consumption every year approximately 1.3 billion tons gets lost or wasted.

Worldwide, food loss and waste are a huge problem. It is estimated that by 2050, to feed the growing world population, the amount of food required will need to double. Unfortunately, the resources we have are at capacity and dwindling. Cutting current rates of food loss and waste in half would likely reduce the size of this food gap by about 22 percent. It’s now up to us to begin to capture the lost food, so it can be used more efficiently.

From production to final consumption, there are several key areas of food waste. A key area that the supply chain and logistics world effects is that of food waste lost in distribution. Estimated at 9-11 %, it is an area that all shippers, carriers, and receivers can have a direct impact on. As professionals, we can affect change by doing the following.

Expiration Dates

We need to begin to rethink expiration dates. 17% of the requests for food destruction seen at RLS are because of expired dates or dates without enough shelf life. The shippers would rather dispose of this product than donate it to a food pantry or food bank. We will discuss this further later in the article.


Another issue is a damaged product. 47% of the issues we handle are related to damaged cases from mishandling. Again, this is a good product that can be donated to feed the hungry and homeless in
our country.

The USDA estimates that the largest source of food loss occurs at the post-harvest and consumption level. Combined, this key area accounts for more than 50% of all food wasted
by Americans.

How Can You Help?

Shop smart and realistically. Most people tend to buy more food than they need. Though buying in bulk may be convenient, research has shown that this shopping method leads to more food waste. To avoid buying more food than you need, make frequent trips to the grocery store every few days rather than doing a bulk shopping trip once a week. Make a point to use up all the food you purchased during the last trip to the market before buying more groceries. Additionally, try making a list of items that you need to buy and stick to that list. This will help reduce impulse buying and reduce food waste as well.

When Cooking, Don’t Over-Serve

Overeating is a problem for many people. Making sure your portion sizes stay within a healthy range doesn’t just help keep your weight down, it also reduces food waste. While you may not think twice about scraping the leftover food on your plate into the trash, remember that food waste has a major impact on the environment. Being more mindful of how hungry you actually are and practicing portion control are great ways to reduce food waste.

Save – and Actually Eat – Leftovers

Leftovers aren’t just for holidays. Although many people save excess food from large meals, it is often forgotten in the fridge and then tossed when it goes bad. Storing leftovers in a clear glass container, rather than in an opaque container, helps ensure you don’t forget the food. If you happen to cook a lot and you regularly have leftovers, designate a day to use up any that have accumulated in the fridge. It’s a great way to avoid throwing away food. What’s more, it saves you time and money.

Store Food in the Right Places

Improper storage leads to a massive amount of food waste. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, about two-thirds of household waste is due to food spoilage. Many people are unsure how to store fruits and vegetables, which can lead to premature ripening and, eventually, rotten produce. For instance, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers, and onions should never be refrigerated. These items should be kept at room temperature. Separating foods that produce more ethylene gas from those that don’t is another great way to reduce food spoilage. Ethylene promotes ripening in foods and could lead to spoilage. Foods that produce ethylene gas while ripening include:  bananas, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupes, peaches, pears, and, green onions.

Keep these foods away from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, apples, leafy greens, berries and peppers to avoid premature spoilage.

Treat Expiration and Sell-by Dates as Guidelines

One source of food waste arises from consumers or retailers throwing away wholesome food because of confusion about the meaning of dates displayed on the label. To reduce consumer confusion and wasted food, it is recommended that food manufacturers and retailers that apply product dating use a “Best if Used By” date. Research shows that this phrase conveys to consumers that the product will be of best quality if used by the calendar date shown. Foods not exhibiting signs of spoilage should be wholesome and may be sold, purchased, donated and consumed beyond the labeled “Best if Used By” date.

Are Foods Safe to Eat After the Date Passes?

With an exception of infant formula, if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident. Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten.

Microorganisms such as molds, yeasts, and bacteria can multiply and cause food to spoil. Viruses are not capable of growing in food and do not cause spoilage. There are two types of bacteria that can be found on food: pathogenic bacteria, which cause foodborne illness, and spoilage bacteria, which do not cause illness but do cause foods to deteriorate and develop unpleasant characteristics such as an undesirable taste or odor making the food not wholesome. When spoilage bacteria have nutrients (food), moisture, time, and favorable temperatures, these conditions will allow the bacteria to grow rapidly and affect the quality of the food.  Food spoilage can occur much faster if food is not stored or handled properly.  A change in the color of meat or poultry is not an indicator of spoilage. 

Food waste is a large problem but not impossible to overcome. With everyone’s help, we can bridge the gap between our needs and our resources.     

Greg Quast is Vice President of Freight Consolidation at RLS Logistics. A supply chain solutions provider to the frozen and refrigerated food industry, located in Newfield NJ. He can be reached at
[email protected]


Image Credit: Lightspring/, ducu59us/