Food losses before sale

According to a UN report, 14 percent of the world’s food is lost before it even ends up in trade. Fruit and vegetables are particularly affected. A report presented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that preventing losses would promote global economic growth and productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plastics can sometimes help against losses.

Reasons for food losses are wrong harvesting times, climatic conditions, wrong harvesting techniques, poor storage and transport, according to the report presented in Rome on 14 October 2019. „This means that land and water resources have been wasted, air pollution has been generated and greenhouse gases have been emitted for nothing,“ FAO Director Qu Dongyu said. „I also often wonder how we can allow food to be thrown away when more than 820 million people in the world are starving every day. „The FAO’s comprehensive 2011 estimate estimates that about 30 percent of the world’s food is lost or wasted every year. This could be seen as a preliminary estimate that has raised awareness of the problem.

The FAO distinguishes between „losses“ – when edible food is lost during production and transport – and „wastage“: i.e. food thrown away by retailers or consumers.

To clarify this issue, this figure is currently being replaced by two separate SDG indicators, the Food Loss Index and the Food Waste Index. „With these two indices, we can measure more accurately how much food is lost in the production or supply chain or wasted by consumers or retailers,“ the FAO explains. The Food Loss Index is calculated by the FAO and includes new estimates for part of the supply chain, from post-harvest to retail (excluding retail). The food waste index calculated by UNEP measures food waste at the retail and consumption levels. Estimates for this index are still pending.

According to initial FAO estimates for the Food Loss Index, 14 per cent of the world’s food is lost from post-harvest to retail level (but excluding). „As we improve our estimates, we will know whether the magnitude of the problem is comparable to previous estimates that each year about 1/3 of the world’s food is lost or wasted,“ it continues.

What food is lost or wasted?

  •     Roots, tubers, oil plants: 25.3 percent
  •     Fruit and vegetables: 21.6 percent
  •     Meat and animal products 11.9 percent
  •     Cereals and pulses 8.6 percent
  •     Other: 10.1 percent

Where is the food lost?

Major causes of operating losses include inadequate harvesting times, climatic conditions, harvesting and handling practices, and challenges in marketing products.

In stock: Significant losses are due to inadequate storage and decisions at earlier stages of the supply chain leading to a shorter shelf life of products.

On the move: Good infrastructure and efficient trade logistics are key to avoiding food losses. Processing and packaging play a role in the preservation of food and losses are often caused by inadequate facilities, technical malfunctions or human error.

In the shop: The causes of food waste in retail are related to limited shelf life, the need for food to meet aesthetic standards in terms of colour, shape and size, and varying demand.

At home: Consumer waste is often caused by poor shopping and food planning, excess purchases (influenced by oversized portions and package sizes), confusion about labels (best before and after use) and poor storage at home.

The fight against losses and waste is complicated. For example, losses could be reduced by better cold storage and packaging. Poor packaging can also lead to food losses. Reusable plastic crates, for example, reduce losses when transporting vegetables, FAO experts explain. This is because crates made of wood or bags are difficult to stack, which is why fruit and vegetables can be damaged – and ultimately thrown away.

The customer in the supermarket wants good-looking products, a cucumber that is too crooked – even if there is a trend towards naturalness – or an apple with a brown dent is not well received. Plastic packaging can protect – so less is thrown away.

Database for food losses

To gain further insight into the location and extent of food losses and waste at different stages of the food supply chain and between regions and commodity groups, the FAO conducted a meta-analysis of existing studies on food losses and waste around the world.

The Food Loss and Waste Database is the largest online collection of data on both food loss and food waste and causes reported in the literature. The database contains data and information from publicly available reports and studies measuring food losses and waste across food products, value-added stages and geographical areas. More than 480 publications and reports from various sources were published in October 2019.