From Farm-to-Fork: the 5 stages of wasting food

It is quite well known that up to 50% of our fresh produce goes to waste each year. From the farms, through the supply chains, to the supermarket and eventually into the fridges of the consumer, the amount of food that goes to waste is too high. With the growing demand for food supplies alongside the global population increase, we should be doing everything we can to reduce this statistic.

Currently, there are about 7.6 billion people on the planet, and the number is set to reach around 10 billion by the year 2050. We simply cannot afford to be losing such large quantities of the world’s food supply each year, which also contributes to greenhouse gas and C02 emissions.

At PostHarvest, we believe that awareness is one of the most important factors of creating change, and we’re here to not only educate but highlight some of the best technologies in the current market that are helping combat this problem. 

This article will go over exactly how food is packed, shipped, and unfortunately either lost or wasted across the entire supply chain. We believe that together, we can reduce food waste and help end world hunger, are you up for the challenge?

How food is produced – an overview

The process of food production and the supply chain is long and labor-intensive, regardless of the type of food that is being transferred through. Many steps are involved, from farming through cool storage, and into grocery stores.

Farming

In the farming stage, factors such as healthy soil have a major effect on the quality and health of the produce. Farmers, understanding the value of soil quality will take the time to plant and then cover the crops with ingredients such as clover and rye, to increase the nutritional value overall.

Once the soil content is of a certain quality, farmers implement laser leveling to prepare the soil to actually plant crops. Whilst planting, even spacing is critical to ensure optimal drainage during the irrigation process.

There is a 3 to 6-week cycle for plant growth, and in the meantime, they are fertigated and checked for any health concerns or defects. Pesticides and herbicides are also used to ensure no weeds or pests come around and choke or eat the crops. Once the product is ready for harvest, the pickers need to ensure that it is harvested and picked at not only the right time but also the correct temperature.

This depends on the type of produce, for example, spinach needs to be harvested early in the morning, when the temperature is lower. If picked too soon, say later in the afternoon, the sun is much warmer, and this could damage the leaves. 

Processing/Cold Storage

Once the produce has been harvested, it is critical that it remains in cold storage until the point of purchase. Roughly around 38°F or 3°C for the majority of produce, but of course this does vary depending on the type. Cold storage helps delay the ripening process and helps maximize the life of the fresh produce at hand.

The produce can travel great distances, and it is imperative to have monitored control over temperature, humidity, and ethylene levels. Sensors such as the PostHarvest sensor can track and report on all of these factors, and you can register your interest in Postharvest’s sensor, here.

Should there be a change or spike in any of the mentioned factors, this can affect the produce at hand almost immediately.

Once they have been harvested and transferred to the processing facility, where they are inspected by quality analysts to ensure the size and appearance of the produce. Once all batches are approved, the produce travels to other processing facilities where they are washed and packaged.

Supply Chain

Once the product has been inspected, washed, and packaged, it begins the travel part of its journey. Some fresh produce can be sent all across the world, depending on the demand of the product as well as the season for it, and so transportation and logistics are an important factor.

Disturbances during the distribution process can also affect the quality of the produce, so monitoring it is important.

Most produce needs to go to retailers and consumers within 48 hours to be sold within its peak conditions and freshness, otherwise, it won’t be bought and will be thrown away as a result.

Supermarket

Once fresh produce hits the retail and consumer level part of the supply chain journey, it generally has about 5-6 days to be sold before it needs to be thrown away. Statistically, around 10% of all produce losses happen at the retail stage, mostly due to consumers not viewing the product as fit to buy. We as consumers prefer full and healthy-looking produce, and even the smallest defect can lead us to not buying it at all.

This overall equates to nearly 6 billion pounds of waste in the United States alone, due to small imperfections. There are many USDA regulations and guidelines in place as well, that legally must be followed by supermarkets before they sell to a consumer. If the product has been there for too long, regardless of its ripeness levels, it ends up being rejected and sent to landfills.

Consumer

The final stage is in the home of the consumer. We often forget to examine this area of the food supply journey as we naturally assume the journey is complete, however, a significant amount of food waste actually happens inside of our homes. In America alone, there is about $218 billion dollars worth of food waste each year, and this number is only increasing.

There are many different ways we can ensure to play our part in decreasing food waste but one of the first steps is to understand exactly how much is wasted, and then with that awareness, we can do our part in preserving and using as much as possible.

In summary, food waste globally is at an alarmingly high rate, from poor packaging to temperature levels that change too quickly and cause the overripening of fruit, to then in the supermarket and into the fridges of the consumer, we are responsible for over 45% of all fresh produce being thrown away as a whole.

There are many technological advancements currently being developed in the market to help combat this, from farming to supply chain, and even in our home refrigerators, that can help us know how and when is best to use, store, and preserve our food, so we can distribute more, and help feed as many as possible.

You can find more free educational content on how to decrease your food waste as well as learn more about the industry as a whole here. If you have any thoughts or feedback, feel free to either comment below or reach out here and let’s chat!

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