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A closer look at that rotten papaya - facts on food waste

Claudia Gabarain's picture

I'm getting a lot of satisfaction lately from this blog, and here is the very last example: in response to a rather light posting simply calling attention to an ingenious awareness campaign, I received this comment from reader S.Y. which provides actual data, links to recent, relevant reports, and makes a solid connection between food waste, development, and the East Asia & Pacific region:

"Despite its personal perspective style, your article on food waste awareness is very relevant to both the food crises recently making the headlines and the Bank's EAP region.

You are hardly alone in housing that ugly peach. Food waste occurs at different levels of a chain extending from harvesting to consumption. Household food waste is, as you point out, a relatively recent phenomenon in many developed countries (what the Bank delights in calling the North). This was publicised in July 2008 when Gordon Brown urged Britons to stop wasting food. The U.K. report "Food Matters"  says consumers in this country throw away 4.1 million tonnes of edible food (worth an average of £420--USD836 or €533 at today's rate) per household per year. Nearly a decade ago, a U.S. report estimated an annual waste of 10 times more, 41 million tonnes, of edible food at the consumer and food-service levels in that country! (Kantor et al., Food Review 1997 20:2-12).

Some blog readers may not be aware that non-trivial proportions of the ready-to-harvest food is lost during harvest processing, storage, and transport. The article on post-harvest food losses in "World Resources 1998-99" by the World Resources Institute (Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 152; also available at - pdf) describes that, although losses estimates are admittedly controversial, total post-harvest losses generally ranged between 10% and 40% just before the end of the 20th century. More relevant to EAP, the article also describes harvesting and post-harvesting losses in this region. For rice, between 5% and 16% percent of the harvest in the Philippines was lost in the harvesting process itself (cutting, handling, threshing and cleaning), and an additional 5% to 21% was lost in drying, storage, milling and processing. Rice post-harvest losses in China were between 5% and 23%; in Vietnam they were between 10% and 25% under typical conditions, and between 40% and 80% percent under more extreme conditions.

It is in the 'cosmetic' aspect of food acceptability by the consumer where North vs. South differences are more obvious because of the higher selection standard of more affluent societies. But rather than limiting the options to buy more in less trips (and waste more food) or to buy less in more trips (and waste more petrol), the waste by the affluent consumer may be reduced by more realistic shopping plans and by better refrigeration storage (placing items in the storage bin with the label for the items goes a long way).

Also, North consumers should be less picky about demanding perfect produce. Grievously, these are the same people who pay through the nose (often literally) for a dish of canard faisandé in the overpriced French restaurant outside France and -- bien qu'ils s'en pourlèche les badigoinces -- happily call the partly rotten meat 'gamey'."




Submitted by Jayashree on
As noted by the article's contributor, food losses estimates can be controversial. The wide ranges described may be the result, among other things, of biases in the reporting or in questionnaires. The post-harvest losses in the United States has been carefully examined using contemporary archeology techniques. Yes, it does sound strange, but these techniques are appropriate to investigate food waste. Contemporary archeology researches the (various aspects of) use of modern materials, in this case food. By measuring and weighing the materials directly in their context of use, instead of relying on indirect measures or questionnaires, the archeological approach avoids biases when users self-report a behavior that may be influenced by their own self-image expectations. Timothy Jones, an anthropologist of the University of Arizona at Tucson, initiated a study applying contemporary archeology techniques in Salinas Valley of California (the primary place for growing and processing fresh vegetables in the country), followed by the apple country in Washington and Oregon, and then in the orange growing region of Florida. He then moved into the retail food sector, including fast food, traditional restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores, and finally to household kitchens. The results of Jones' work have been published in a series of articles in the magazine BioCycle in 2005 and 2006. He reports that inefficient harvesting and processing of fresh food produced losses of more than 12% of the total; that large food retail places had 10 times the losses of small ones; and that, all together, an astonishing 40% to 50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten in the country. The latter percentage is about twice what most people thought. In US dollars, the losses represent $20,000 million for the farming industry, $30,000 million for the retail industry, and more than $40,000 million for the consumers. Jones has called for the creation of a national center to address food and systemic food loss as a public policy issue.

No one wants to waste food, but no one wants to get sick on improperly held leftovers either. Leftovers and waste can be reduced by carefully calculating the number and sizes of portions. However, it is often easier and more efficient to prepare ingredients used in many dishes at one time. The leftovers from bulk preparation must be properly stored to reduce waste and contamination.

Submitted by Bosede Amoo on
Our conservation ethics start from the ability to know what is needed at a particular time and to only harvest and buy such. What should be noted are: 1. lf you have an orchard where various fruits and vegetables are grown you must ensure you harvest the ripe ones on time and consume them. Ensure you preserve the rest appropriately to prevent fungi growth which might cause another health problem. There must not be any waste. 2. lf the products are too much for family consumption and there is no means of preservation, sell them at reasonable affordable prices for both rich and poor. 3. lf your status cannot sell such products ensure you share with your neighbours. Do not cultivate in excess of what is required. THERE MUST NOT BE ANY WASTE. 4. We should be looking for ways to process such products such that they will be available even when they are off season. We should aways remember that there is no spare planet. Use some, save some and share some.

Great article, i think there are many people in the world who struggle for getting one time meal and on another side some people waste food without caring of it. Every individual should take care of storing left over food properly or else try to make food with the require quantity only.

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