OneThird offers food waste prevention solutions for retailers, as well as education to help reduce the amount of food thrown into landfills. Retailers suffer from food waste as consumers have large quality expectations and it is difficult to predict demand. OneThird’s mission is to help retailers prevent fresh produce food waste through education and technology. We offer shelf life prediction solutions that are able to assess fresh produce in real-time and know how long a fruit or vegetable will still be good for. By understanding shelf life, produce managers can make better decisions about fresh produce. Also, OneThird helps retailers create objective standards for quality with suppliers to ensure everyone is meeting minimum thresholds and delivering produce that customers will buy. Learn more about food waste prevention tips and solutions with us.

A Sustainability Advisor’s Take on Food Waste

Eden Owen-Jones achieved a 2:1 BA in Social and Political Science at the University of York. A triple faculty BA in Politics, Sociology and Social Policy gave her a base in the global political economy specialising in sustainability, environmental foreign policy and welfare economics. Now, she volunteers with food waste organisations in the South of England.

Learning About Food Waste

In the summer of 2016, I was on my gap year and working at a leading British supermarket. I regularly found myself running around with a trolley full of reduced food, yelling things like, “Who wants cheap bread?” and “Lovely food, still great to eat!” I was trying to prevent it from being thrown away. Otherwise, company policy directed us to discard all bakery products daily. Meat, fish and deli items that hadn’t been sold within two days of being opened received the same treatment. I didn’t realise at the time that I was just passing the burden of not wasting that food on to the shoppers. I had no idea of the true extent of household food waste.

When I started working there, I wasn’t aware of the supermarket’s policy, and employees were instructed to make the bakery shelves appear abundant at all times. As a nervous new employee, I kept those shelves brimming with freshly baked produce – not realising that I should stop towards the end of the day. One day, I was responsible for over eight garbage bags of fresh, perfectly good bread going in the bin. I was so ashamed of myself.

Food Waste at Home

I learnt to cook at home, in an environment where nothing could be wasted. Oftentimes, I had to be creative at dinnertimes and string the contents of the larder and fridge into a coherent and tasty meal. I thought everyone ignored sell-by dates – why wouldn’t you? That was how I cooked, and I just assumed everyone did the same.

However, when I got to university, I saw my flatmates throw away entire loaves of bread with no visible signs of mould. They even chucked full packets of meat, salad, fruit and veg in the bin, poured perfectly good milk down the drain, and scrapped leftovers. Efforts to discuss this behaviour with them weren’t as successful as I had hoped.

Bread rescued from supermarket waste in the pay-as-you-feel shop at YourCafe.

Food Waste in My Community

Wanting to become more involved in tackling food waste, I came across YourCafe. This group of lovely individuals meets once a week to rescue food from supermarkets that was heading to landfill. They do this by creating a pay-as-you-feel café and shop for the community to enjoy.

Volunteers from YourCafe cooking lunch.

YourCafe’s aim is to educate the community on the issue of food waste and to provide a hot, delicious meal for anyone who wants one. I loved volunteering with them and did it as much as I could. I got to cook all day, creating a menu in much the same way I always had: I worked with the available ingredients and made something great. There were always lots of amazing fresh fruit and vegetables, and sometimes we would have food from other cultures around the world that I had never tried before, like traditional polish breads and sausages. One day, 15 boxes of profiteroles were dropped off.

Vegetables rescued from supermarket waste in the pay as you feel shop at YourCafe.

After working in a supermarket, I wasn’t shocked by what I saw. At the time, the market could not legally donate the food. Since then, positive policy steps have been made in the private sector. Still, the retail market is responsible for less than 2 per cent of total waste. It’s in our own daily lives that we need an attitude transformation.

To learn about food donation policies in the U.S., check out this post from OneThird.

Global Food Waste and Food Security

Globally, every year we farm an area that is larger than China just to produce all the food goes uneaten. This accounts for roughly one-third of all food produced globally. In our current global society, at least 1 billion people go hungry. Meanwhile, the world population will increase by 2 billion people by 2050. Additionally, the agricultural industry faces increasing weather variability and unpredictability which will have a significant effect on the resilience of our food system. And mind you, if we maintain current levels of food waste, our food system will have to increase production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 to meet the world’s growing demands.

For more on food waste and insecurity, follow this link.

Food Waste in the Value Chain

Food security is not and should not just be about increased production, but also about decreasing waste along the value chain. The food we eat isn’t just food – it’s water, soil, fossil fuels, manpower. So often we forget everything that goes into making it. An egg isn’t just an egg, it’s 53 gallons of water.

Food is wasted in every stage of its life: it’s lost on the farm and during sorting, packaging, transportation. Then, it frequently is forgotten about in our fridges. However, a 2011 report found that in high- and middle-income countries, consumer behaviour and quality standards are the biggest reasons behind food waste. In Europe and North America, we waste an average of 95kg-115kg of food per person per year. Recent estimates have said UK households waste as much as 4.5 tonnes of food every year. Something has to change.

What’s the Big Deal About Shelf-life, Anyway?

Shelf-life prediction would be a monumental way to tackle this issue and will enable consumers to look beyond sell-by dates. On this note, YourCafe reminds us to “feed bellies, not bins”. Shelf-life prediction could also reduce waste at the commercial level as supermarkets could use this technology to refine how they mark-up sell by dates.

I don’t think people are happy throwing away food; we’re all just too anxious, tired and busy. Uneasy about your ability to determine a food’s shelf life? You’re not alone! Many of us with demanding work schedules and unsympathetic sick leave aren’t going to want to risk it. Perhaps we can’t face the extra time on our feet cooking and sorting out the fridge at the end of a hard working day. So we get takeaways or buy something we can just stick in the oven and try not to think about all the food in our fridge that we know needs eating. Moreover, sometimes we just don’t want or feel like eating the food we have. However, I would argue that this is a privilege and one we need to fully recognise if we are going to tackle this issue.

What Can We Do to Solve the Problem at Home?

Ensuring something doesn’t go in the bin often takes less time than making a tea or coffee. Making a quick pickle brine for leftover cucumber, broccoli stalks or green beans genuinely takes minutes and gives you something delicious with a long shelf life.

Pickled Cabbage and Pickled cucumber I made in June when I noticed they were beginning to go past their best.

Always remember that the freezer is your friend. I keep ‘Green’ and ‘Red’ freezer bags in there to keep scraps and over-ripe veg for ready-to-go soup mix. It’s a brilliant quick-fix when I get home late.

Some potato’s that “went off” on the 21st of June. I cooked them into the meal in the next image on the 8th of July.

If vegetables like tomatos, celery, or carrots are getting past their best, I often make a “master sauce”. This is just a simple tomato sauce that I store in batches that can be transformed into chilli’s, pasta sauces, or minestrone. Occasionally, I use it to make a play on shakshuka. Really, you can use this master sauce for anything that can use a tomato base.

A lunch I made with left over chilli, the pickled cabbage I made in June, and the potatoes from the previous image, with some vegan crème fresh.

Any fruit that’s looking a bit soft, I cook on the hob for a few minutes and then freeze it as compote to eat with porridge or pancakes. Buy the veg with the bumps and bruises – once it’s cooked, you’ll seldom be able to tell the difference. Make a stock with scraps, get creative with leftovers, make a jar of croutons and breadcrumbs.

Are you someone who forgets when you put leftovers in the fridge? Date label them! This way you’ll know when to use them by. Yes, this can be time-consuming, but it’s also fun and genuinely satisfying.

Ways to Be a Better Consumer

We tend to shop habitually. For example, we buy milk even though we have half a carton in the fridge. Other times, we pick up another loaf of bread when we might have one in the freezer. Planning meals doesn’t have to mean setting aside time to rigidly organise lunches and dinners. At the start, it could be as simple as shopping with meals in mind. This will mean flexibility in your meal choices while decreasing waste. Consumer behaviour does have an impact on commercial practices. How we choose to eat will in time change what we see on the shelves – and hopefully how long it’s there for.

One last idea is to try out food waste apps like Olio, which help you to share your food with your community. Donating food to a food bank can also be a good idea. In the U.S.? Check out OneThird’s interactive map to find a food donation center near you.

If you have any questions about this blog or anything else regarding food waste, I’d be happy to chat with you via LinkedIn.

Happy cooking – you might enjoy it.

– Eden Owen-Jones


Check out other OneThird guest blogs here!

onethird food waste prevention

tomato

What is Shelf Life Prediction?

Shelf life prediction is a technology that has risen with the need to track the freshness of food.

Currently, static testing is the most common way of measuring shelf life. This involves leaving produce on a shelf and waiting for it to expire. But, this is slow, leads to unnecessary food waste, and not accurate. 

New technologies are able to assess fresh produce and tell you the number of days it has left.

Imagine how powerful your decisions could be if you knew the life of any batch of fruits and vegetables.

Shelf life prediction benefits businesses at each stage of the food supply chain. Also, AI has made it more powerful and affordable to use.

Why Measure Shelf Life?

It is important to understand and predict how long food will last. This ensures that high-quality produce reaches the end destination. Also, customers are more likely to buy and consume fresher produce, so it helps reduce food waste.

Benefits of measuring shelf life include:

Benefits of shelf life prediction

What Methods of Shelf Life Prediction are Available?

The food system uses four main methods (other than static testing) to predict shelf life. Most measure the internal status and external conditions of fresh produce.

types of shelf life prediction technologies for fresh produce

1. Spectroscopy

Spectroscopy uses light to analyze the internal status of fruits and vegetables. Researches already use spectroscopy in multiple ways for food analysis. This technology offers real-time shelf life and freshness measurement of fruits and vegetables. You can also combine it with other data to further improve accuracy. 

2. Imaging

Imaging in both the visual field and outside the visual spectrum can be helpful in determining the current state of produce. A smartphone camera assesses whatever the human eye sees and is quite good at doing so. But, we still can’t visualize much of the ripening process because it occurs underneath the surface. Spectral cameras visualize more of the ripening and rotting processes because they see things the eye cannot.

3. Chemical Analysis

Ethylene is a gas that most fruits produce during the ripening process. By measuring the levels of ethylene continuously, you can know the time that fruit begins to ripen. However, it is difficult to measure ethylene of individual items because most fruits and vegetables produce it. Artificial ripening also uses ethylene, which limits the usage of this technology across the supply chain.

4. Temperature

Keeping food cold throughout the supply chain is important. If the cold chain is broken, it can harm shelf life. You can track the life of fresh produce by monitoring temperature. The current temperature of a single piece of produce in a given moment is not useful. However, you can look at the temperature history of that fruit or vegetable and even combine it with other data to gain a better idea of shelf life.

Which Type is Best?

The answer to this question depends on the application. Combining multiple technologies may even be the most accurate.

The best fits for the following technologies are:

  • Spectroscopy- Measuring accurate shelf life across the entire supply chain
  • Chemical Analysis- Determining when fruits or vegetables ripen in the middle of the supply chain
  • Temperature- Understanding how temperature affects shelf life across the supply chain
  • Imaging- Analyzing visual defects and internal processes in produce across the supply chain

Below is a chart to see how the different methods compare against each other.

Methods of fresh produce shelf life prediction

What Features are Important to Have?

The technology to measure shelf life is important, but what is more important is the value you gain from analyzing and acting on the data.

These are the features that are most important for shelf life prediction solutions:

Features needed in shelf life prediction technology

What Should The Steps to Implementation Be?

The earlier this process is started, the closer you are to saving food waste and improving sustainability metrics.

The ideal path to implementation that we’ve found is:

  1. Evaluate potential solutions and suppliers
  2. Prioritize most important produce to target
  3. Begin a trial with most critical variety (this can be done with a supplier/customer at the same time)
  4. Analyze the results of the trial and verify your ROI
  5. Expand the solution into more varieties/more sites
  6. Implement the solution at supplier and customer levels, if beneficial

Conclusion

A few different types of technologies for predicting shelf life are currently available.

The best choice of technology depends on the application it is used for, and it may be best to combine technologies.

When implementing shelf life prediction, it is important that it meets the criteria laid out in this post to avoid headaches in the future.

Want to learn more about fresh produce shelf life prediction? Check out our Ultimate Guide!

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

What Does OneThird Do?

OneThird works with growers, distributors, and retailers to provide shelf life prediction solutions.

We use spectroscopy and other data sources to predict shelf life. Also, our cloud platform and AI algorithms allow you to share this information and to connect with partners.

Trials with early adopters have proven the accuracy of this technology and have confirmed it saves them money and time.

Contact us to learn more about how OneThird can help you predict shelf life and prevent food waste.onethird logo

aerial photo of trucks

Cold chain temperature monitoring helps customers receive fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresher produce means customers will be more likely to buy from you again, and it also reduces food waste.

Why is Temperature Monitored in the Cold Chain?

The short answer is to make sure it’s actually cold!

Temperature is something that can affect the shelf life of produce at any stage of the journey from farm to fork. For this reason, it is common (and in some cases, required) to track the temperature along the fresh produce supply chain.

However, there are a number of other factors that can reduce fresh produce shelf life, including:

  • Handling
  • Field conditions
  • Ethylene from surrounding produce
  • and many more

Most major fleets have temperature monitoring equipment in use now. Temperature and humidity monitoring are helpful cold chain management solutions. They identify potential causes of early expiration and allow for improvements to be made.

How Does Cold Chain Temperature Data Help?

Knowing the temperature of fresh produce from the moment it is picked until it reaches the end customer is powerful information.

This data helps to improve food quality, pinpoint areas for improvement, and even helps to predict expected shelf life.

But, there is still a huge amount of food loss/waste and room for improving freshness.

global food waste and loss per year is 1.3 billion tons

Temperature Monitoring is One Piece of the Puzzle

We have established that many things can affect freshness and shelf life of fresh produce.

While temperature data is continuous, it requires a full understanding of a batch’s history.

We are not against cold chain temperature monitoring. In fact, we recommend having a robust, cloud-connected system in place. It’s important to have this data to gain the full picture of the journey through the supply chain.

However, when it comes to predicting shelf life and freshness using temperature alone, you run into some issues.

cold chain temperature monitoring infographic

You Can’t Determine Shelf Life Just by Measuring Temperature

Let’s say you have two batches of strawberries picked around the same time and stored at the exact same temperature. How do you decide which location each is sent to?

The aim is to ship the first to expire out first (FEFO), in a process called dynamic routing. This allows for fresher produce to customers compared to FIFO (first in, first out).

FEFO method of shipping fresh produce

 

FIFO method of supply chain decisions

Unfortunately, you can’t measure the temperature of a strawberry and instantly know the freshness.

How do you decide where to ship each batch if they have been stored in the same conditions?

And what if a batch has no chance of being fresh when it reaches the customer?

FEFO sends fresher produce to customers than FIFO. However, you need a way of determining shelf life to implement it.

How to Predict Shelf Life in Real-Time

There are a few ways to assess the shelf life of fruits and vegetables in real-time, and they all use AI data analysis.

The key is that you need to be able to easily and quickly pick up a fruit or vegetable and know how much longer it is good for.

Predicting shelf life using the current status of fresh produce is a must.

OneThird has created handheld scanners that use spectroscopy to predict shelf life in under a second.

Spectroscopy is actually already commonly used in many food and agriculture applications.

This technology involves shining light into fruits and vegetables to measure internal properties. It can measure shelf life within one day of accuracy.

How Shelf Life Prediction Enables Dynamic Routing

Dynamic routing requires understanding how long produce will remain fresh.

USDA and customer standards don’t matter if your produce doesn’t make it to the destination without degrading.

Shelf life prediction allows for dynamic routing. You can prioritize shipments based on the expiration date (FEFO), rather than the order they entered cold storage (FIFO).

Walmart’s Eden quality management system is a well-known example of how a company can optimize its fresh produce supply chain. They expect to save around $400 million per year in food loss and waste using it.

Shelf life predictions are more accurate when they incorporate cold chain temperature data.

What if You Knew the Shelf Life of All Your Fresh Produce?

Just imagine a world where you know shelf life from the moment a batch of strawberries and other produce is harvested from the farm or greenhouse.

You will know where to send each batch to ensure your fresh produce meets customer expectations. Then, in the store, you can use a handheld scanner to see if individual items are still fresh enough to sell.

All of this data can be visualized on a phone or computer to analyze shelf life over time and make improvements.

onethird mobile app and cloud platform

There are a lot of potential applications for growers, distributors, and retailers:

  • Smarter harvesting decisions
  • Automated dynamic routing
  • Objective standards across the supply chain
  • Dynamic pricing in-store
  • Removal of best-before dates
  • and more

Be sure to read our free Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction to learn everything you need to know about this technology.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

Summary

Cold chain temperature monitoring is a crucial element of getting fresh produce to customers.

However, you can receive additional benefits by adding other technologies that leverage this data.

You will soon be able to know the real shelf life of any batch of fruits or vegetables. This will help you make smarter decisions that reduce food loss and waste.

OneThird’s handheld scanners allow you to measure shelf life in under one second and know exactly what to do with that fruit or vegetable.

We understand the supply chain is complex and every retailer has a different one. That’s why our solutions are modular and can be adapted for any business. We also have different solutions for every part of the supply chain based on individual needs.

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Holding phone to determine shelf life

Introduction to Walmart’s Eden Project

Walmart’s Eden has already saved the business hundreds of millions of dollars since its start in 2017. In fact, in 2018 they predicted it would save them up to $2 billion over the next five years.

They have been quiet on the exact savings, but it’s safe to assume that this has made a drastic impact on their bottom line. They also ensure fresher fruits and vegetables with Eden, which helps to grow their fresh produce business.

Walmart's Eden Project to Prevent food waste

Reducing Food Waste Has Huge Benefits

The future of fresh produce businesses needs to be more profitable or they will fail.

The future of the planet needs to be sustainable or the human race will fail.

Reducing food waste helps meet these two objectives more than any other improvement.

About a tenth of the global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food waste, and it costs nearly $5,000 per ton. Efforts towards preventing food waste can provide a huge return on investment and help meet sustainability goals.

the US spends $218 billion per year on food that never gets eaten

How Eden Works

Eden is a quality management system that compiles a lot of data to predict freshness and shelf life in fresh produce.

By knowing the freshness, Walmart can optimize the flow of perishable goods. This is known as dynamic routing because they can send the right food to the right place at the right time.

Employees can take pictures of fruits and vegetables and automate the QC process. Sensors track temperature and other factors to give a complete picture of the life of their fresh produce.

using walmart's eden to assess fresh produce

Walmart Created Eden Internally

Walmart’s fresh merchandising engineers started Eden in a “hackathon” focused on finding solutions for tracking food freshness. Within six months, they developed an algorithm to predict freshness and quality based on standards and over a million photos.

This solution would take years to replicate at most other chains and need a huge investment if done in the same way.

It’s safe to assume that you don’t have the same budget for fresh merchandising engineers that Walmart has (or any budget, in most cases). They’ve applied for at least two patents on Eden, so it’s unlikely that Walmart will share the technology that gives them such a leading edge.

How You Can Replicate Walmart’s Eden

There are technologies similar to Eden to deliver similar results in your operation. Some even have more in-depth freshness algorithms to predict shelf life.

OneThird offers shelf-life prediction solutions that are as easy as holding a device up to fresh produce for 1 second and reading a screen. The AI algorithms automate complicated decisions for every business in the supply chain.

Our technology can be built around your existing quality processes and instantly make anyone a freshness expert.

Shelf-life data can be combined with data from other suppliers (temperature, humidity, etc…) to gain an accurate model for fresh produce. The more data, the better.

The result is less food wasted, improved freshness, and millions of dollars saved.

man using onethird mobile app and computer to reduce food waste

Will You Also Save $400 Million Per Year?

Because of the scale of Walmart, it’s a bit unrealistic to save $400 million per year. But the impact of shelf life prediction on your business could be the same.

Eden is estimated to save about 50% of Walmart’s food waste. Let’s assume your business sells 10% of the perishable food that Walmart does. Reducing waste by the same amount would equate to $40 million per year or more in savings.

Don’t believe us? See for yourself with our food waste savings calculator.

If you think of all food surplus as waste, you can clearly see the financial benefits of preventing food loss and waste.

Other Ways You Can Reduce Food Loss and Waste

As most are aware, there are several ways to reduce food loss and waste. The best solution is usually a combination of methods.

To help, we’ve compiled a list of 11 ways distributors and retailers can reduce food waste. We’ve also created The Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

If you’re interested in learning more about how OneThird’s shelf-life prediction solutions can help you save money and improve freshness, be sure to contact us.

 

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bananas with bruises

An Introduction to Food Waste and Food Loss

We often hear the terms “food waste” and “food loss” flying around, but hear about food waste more. At the time of writing, there were around 10,000 monthly Google searches for “food waste” and only around 200 for “food loss”.

But how many of us know what the difference actually is?

Both are painful and damaging to businesses and the planet, but their true difference lies in where the waste is occurring.

This blog post describes the difference between these terms and provides insight into reducing both.

Food Loss Definition

definition of food loss

Food loss is the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain, excluding retailers, food service providers and consumers (SOFA, 2019).

Disposed food that occurs between the farm and the business that will be making the final sale is considered food loss. Systemic issues are normally the culprit.

There are solutions out there for preventing food loss, like cold chain management and shelf-life prediction. Operational improvements are the key to solving this issue.

Food Waste Definition

definition of food waste

Food waste refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers (SOFA, 2019).

When food disposal occurs in restaurants, supermarkets, or at the home of the consumer, it’s considered waste.

The difference in the terminology is due to the fact that food waste is often easier to solve with education. Reducing food loss requires smart logistical improvements.

Food Loss Versus Food Waste

 

“We Really Don’t Waste Much Food”

If you think this is the case, you are either looking at the wrong metrics or should be presenting to the UN about SDG 12.3. The average retailer wastes DOUBLE their food profits on wasted food.

Walmart even loses hundreds of millions of dollars per year in lost/wasted food. They have estimated they will save around $400 million per year by reducing food waste with their quality management system, Eden.

us spends $218 billion per year on food that never gets eaten

A Mindset Shift for Reducing Food Loss and Waste

Many companies reach their sustainability goals by diverting waste using methods towards the bottom of the food recovery hierarchy. However, the goal of “waste diversion” is broad, and having 100% diversion may even provide minimal impact.

Start thinking about reducing surplus food instead of food loss and waste to see greater improvements. You should focus on staying towards the top of the food recovery hierarchy instead of settling towards the bottom, with activities like anaerobic digestion.Food Recovery Hierarchy

Sure, it’s great that we can reconvert food to energy through anaerobic digestion. There is not much economic value in this after the taxing cycle of growing, processing, and transporting food.

In fact, ReFED says anaerobic digestion has an economic value of only $21/year per ton. Yes, $21 without a “k” after it per TON. Considering the cost of wasted food is about $5000/ton, this is minuscule (about 0.4% of the value recovered).

Solutions to Reduce Food Loss

Because loss occurs on the farm and in supply chains, it will take smart logistical improvements to make a large impact.

Different ways to reduce food loss include:

  • Cold chain management technologies
  • Dynamic routing
  • Reduced handling
  • Direct-to-customer delivery
  • Improved inventory management
  • And more…

There are numerous ways to prevent food loss, and the good news most can make a noticeable impact on your bottom line and improve sustainability.

No single solution will tackle this whole issue. However, the earlier you get started, the sooner you start saving costs and preventing the unnecessary tossing of food.

We specialize in helping companies implement dynamic routing in the cold chain through shelf-life prediction. When you know the freshness of each batch of fresh produce, you can know where to ship it and re-route as necessary. This maximizes profit and quality while reducing food loss (and waste).

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

Ways to Prevent Food Waste

Most solutions to food waste revolve around clear communication and enabling better decisions. Food waste is more preventable than food loss.

Need evidence? According to ReFED, the top two food waste solutions in terms of financial benefit are consumer education campaigns and standardized date labeling. These may seem simple, but the amount of waste that is caused by not knowing the difference between the “sell by” date and a “use by” date is stunning.

There are infinite ways to reduce waste- it just takes effort and prioritization.

OneThird has created a guide for retailers calling out 11 ways to reduce food waste. We’ve also created the 30 Day Food Waste Challenge, which lets consumers try out 30 different ways of preventing food waste at home.

30 ways to reduce food waste

Conclusion

Food loss occurs before the food reaches the consumer. Food waste is when food is being sold to the consumer or at their homes.

OneThird focuses on both food loss and food waste reduction. We work with all areas of the supply chain and help educate consumers to make decisions that reduce food waste.

We even use the term “food waste” when we sometimes shouldn’t because it has become such a standard term.

As education about food loss improves and more solutions pop up, we expect a clearer distinction between the two.

 

 

 

Food Waste: Worse Than Ugly – By Austin Hirsh

a set of yellow bananas

According to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste is now the #1 best way to prevent global warming of 2 °C by 2050. This reflects the scale of the problem: 40% of all food produced in the US currently goes uneaten. Imagine the impact of a potential solution. In the United States, 25% of all fresh water consumed, 13% of all carbon emitted, and 80 million acres of farmland is used to produce the food we eat. When food is wasted, so are the resources used to grow it. This leads to $218 billion in losses annually (about double Bill Gates’ net worth).

Fortunately, awareness of food waste has been steadily growing over the past few years. Startups like Imperfect Foods have popularized the sale of “ugly produce” – fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be culled out of the food chain due to cosmetic imperfections. Using ugly produce is a great first step in reducing food waste, especially considering fruits and vegetables are the most wasted food group, with a whopping 48% of American produce going uneaten. However, we need more radical change in order to truly fix this broken food system.

The 2050 Company

As I have developed The 2050 Smoothie over the past year, I have discussed the issue of food waste with farmers, fruit distributors, grocery stores, and other start-ups. I have realized that the issue of food waste extends far beyond “ugly produce”. Food waste is systemic, nuanced, and multifaceted. To create a lasting impact, we must adjust our perception of imperfect produce and unilaterally repair an imperfect system.

In this post, I will describe the three primary areas of food waste that I have identified while building The 2050 Company. I will work backwards through the supply chain, starting in homes, where food waste is most recognizable to the average consumer, before eventually diving into the less intuitive waste that occurs in stores and on farms. I will also describe how The 2050 Smoothie evolved from an “ugly fruit smoothie” to a functional product that incorporates solutions to each type of food waste.

food waste in the supply chain

Source: NRDC

The Household: 39% of Food Waste

The largest culprit of food waste in America is not the farmer, the supplier, or even the grocery store. It is you and me. The United States is one of the only countries in the world where food waste at home outweighs waste at any other level of the supply chain; almost half of all food waste occurs in households! And we all know this waste. It is the brown bunch of bananas on your counter and the half-full box of spinach wilting in the back of your refrigerator.

As if to add insult to injury, the USDA found in 2018 that the healthiest Americans are the most wasteful. Healthy people waste more food because they eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. As Lisa Jahns, USDA nutritionist and co-author of the study, said, “We need a simultaneous effort to increase food quality as well as reduce food waste. We need to put both of those things out”.

food in trash can

Addressing Food Waste at Home

Reducing waste in homes relies heavily on changing consumer habits. You can waste less today by simply making banana bread, freezing your extra spinach to use in smoothies, or buying only what you will be able to eat.

Many new ventures now specialize in making it easier to reduce waste at home. Apeel Technologies made waves in May when it became the first anti-food waste company to reach a billion-dollar valuation, promising to dramatically increase the shelf-life of fresh produce with a natural coating.

The 2050 Company has taken a different route. We use freeze-drying technology that is already widely available to extend the shelf-life of fresh produce from days to years. Freeze drying simply removes the water from fruit, leaving all nutrients and flavor intact. Our customers can store The 2050 Smoothie on a shelf in their pantry for more than a year, eliminating waste and reclaiming freezer space. You simply blend the 2050 Smoothie powder with ice and water to reverse the drying process. Once blended, the smoothie has the same taste, texture, and nutrition as a fresh fruit smoothie! Since The 2050 Smoothie is more sustainable and more convenient than the alternative, our customers can make their daily habits greener without making their lives any harder.

Retail: 29% of Food Waste

Most of us are familiar with the second area of food waste as well. We contribute to this waste every time we go to the grocery store and examine five avocados to find one with the perfect color or knock on a dozen watermelons until one sounds just right. Often, the fruits we leave behind due to their imperfect appearance taste just as great as their “perfect” neighbors.

Last summer, a local fruit vendor told me how frustrated she was by customers who came in and left bruises on dozens of her peaches to find one that “squished just right”. Everyone wants to buy the peaches with the perfect mix of yellow and pink in their skin, she said. But, no one knows that the completely yellow ones actually taste the best.

With these consumer preferences in mind, it is not surprising that grocery stores have enacted policies to eliminate all “ugly produce” from their shelves before customers even see it.

various fruits for sale at a grocery store

Addressing Retail Food Waste

As mentioned above, ugly produce has received notable buzz recently. A handful of businesses sell produce that grocery stores would reject. Imperfect Produce, Hungry Harvest, and Misfit Market are good examples of those businesses. Other companies focus on extending how long fresh produce lasts on store shelves. OneThird, for example, makes a handheld scanner that can predict the remaining shelf-life of a piece of produce to the day.

While developing The 2050 Smoothie, we took the model of ugly produce suppliers one step further. We do not need to ask our customers to look beyond the appearance of ugly fruit for the sake of sustainability. All of the produce in our smoothies is ground into a fine powder, so cosmetic flaws are completely eliminated. Once powdered, an ugly strawberry and a beautiful strawberry really are identical.

Farms: 33% of Food Waste

So far, I have discussed waste due to perishability and waste due to cosmetic flaws. Most people are at least somewhat familiar with both of these waste streams. Though farms are the beginning of the produce life cycle, the waste that happens on farms is not so intuitive. Farmers must cull produce based on factors related to both shelf-life and appearance. However, these two types of food waste are only the tip of the iceberg. Holistically, waste on farms is tied to climate change, consumer preferences, and a complex system of supply and demand.

Farmers face myriad hurdles throughout the year that affect their output. Changing weather patterns may cause buds to break too early or too late. Tariffs may eliminate world markets. Fickle customers may suddenly decide that a certain crop does not fit their latest diet. Recently, the COVID-19 crisis wreaked havoc on farmers nationwide as bulk purchases from restaurants evaporated overnight and seasonal workers became a rare commodity.

Underlying all of these risks is this: consumers do not fully understand that natural trends shape how a farm operates. We expect fresh strawberries in January, though they only grow in June. And we rarely stop to consider the massive pressure that these expectations place on our agricultural systems. How are our farms meant to oppose the natural seasonality of our environments?

a farm with mountains in the background

Addressing Farmers’ Concerns

Most farmers I have spoken with worry less about consumers’ habits. They do not worry about consumers eating more ugly produce or keeping foods for longer in their homes. What they really want are solutions to the more systemic agricultural problems. So, we have to tackle these issues at the start of the supply chain. Otherwise, any waste reduction efforts further down the supply chain must be accompanied by a huge asterisk. To significantly reduce the amount of water, land, and carbon resources wasted on uneaten produce, we must start by ensuring that good produce does not rot in fields.

This is the hard problem of food waste: as important as it is to talk about making ugly produce more appealing or fresh produce more long-lasting, we cannot forget the fact that 20% of produce grown is never even harvested!

On the bright side, this problem is basically an issue of supply and demand. Modern business is built to handle this relationship. Slowing the rate of climate change will rely heavily on policy changes. However, the world of business is uniquely suited to achieve the single goal of reducing food waste. I believe that the solution to systemic food waste is to “flatten the curve” of supply and demand. We need to meet produce where it is.

Our Food Waste Solution

For example, local strawberries harvests in my home state of Washington occur in June and July. Could we buy and store the entire surplus of fresh strawberries in June and sell them in January? What if we could make a deal with local farmers: “If you invest the resources to harvest this field of strawberries instead of letting them rot, we will buy them all”. Imagine being able to freeze dry all of these strawberries in a single day, lock in all taste and nutrition, and store them for up to two years.

The 2050 Smoothie product

Systematic food waste reduction is not an idealistic aspiration, but a concrete goal achievable in a matter of years. Welcome to the future of food.


Austin Hirsh of The 2050 Smoothie holding his product and a smoothie

Austin Hirsh is the founder of the 2050 Company. The 2050 Company makes value-added food products that actively reduce waste in the food system. Their flagship product, the 2050 Smoothie, is a nonperishable, instant smoothie made partially from rescued produce. To learn more about the 2050 mission and join the waitlist for The 2050 Smoothie, visit the2050.co

food authentication of spices

Food Spectroscopy Has Been Used for Years

It may seem like a brand new technology to some, but food spectroscopy has actually been around for a while.

Most of the new uses come from how spectrometers measure and analyze data to solve problems.

This post details the different ways spectroscopy is already used on food.

Different Ways The Industry Uses It

Food spectrometers have evolved over the years. Old desktop spectrometers could cost near $100,000.

Nowadays, handheld spectrometers cost only a few hundred dollars. Also, the technology and portability have improved.

Spectroscopy can measure a lot of things that the human senses cannot. This is why it’s so useful in the food industry.

According to Ocean Insight, the food & agriculture industry uses spectroscopy for the following:

Industrial sorting and grading

industrial sorting and grading strawberries

Optical sensing and machine learning have sped up food sorting based on quality. The human eye can be too subjective for this task.

Having a consistent standard to measure against can improve food safety and quality. Also, this decreases sorting time to near-zero levels.

Real-time field analysis

real-time field analysis of wheat

There are a large number of uses for spectroscopy in analyzing crops in-field.

One such application is understanding the nutrient content of a specific crop. This can help to optimize growing conditions.

Horticulture lighting monitoring

greenhouse horticulture lighting monitoring

Maintaining LED specifications in greenhouses is paramount to crop growth. Growers measure and adjust the lighting to ensure they have the ideal growing conditions.

Pesticide detection

pesticide detection scientist

Employees check for residual pesticides for a few different reasons. One example is analyzing food for human consumption. Another is determining the effects of pesticides on insect populations.

Food authentication

food authentication of spices

Fraud is prevalent in many types of commercially-sold food. These include spices, meat, grains, fish, and others.

Each type of food has a unique spectral fingerprint. Food authenticators can use this to determine if what they scan is fake or not.

A New Application of Spectroscopy in the Food Industry

Spectral imaging and handheld spectrometers are becoming more accessible. Smartphone spectroscopy will likely become more prevalent in a few years. Further, AI (artificial intelligence) is easier to use than ever before.

Shelf life prediction is one of the most helpful applications. Employees at every stage of the food supply chain dream of knowing shelf life.

Soon, anyone can perform an on-demand quality assessment and know the shelf life of any type of food.

The food industry will enjoy the benefits of this in a few ways.

What are the Benefits of Shelf Life Prediction?

Predicting shelf life of food can help in many areas of getting food from the farm to the customer.

  • Rapid quality assessment
  • Higher quality in store
  • Better in-store decisions
  • Cost savings from reducing food waste

Rapid quality assessment

Imagine the decisions you could make by knowing the expected life of a fruit or vegetable. You can know the destination to send each batch and meet quality demands.

Different stakeholders can communicate and improve using detailed data. For example, distributors and retailers can agree on clear shelf life expectations.

Higher quality in store

With quality assessment data, you can use dynamic routing. We’ve made a blog post on what dynamic routing is and how it would work for fresh produce.

This allows a company to send the batch expiring soonest to the closest location. Also, they can send the longest-lasting batch the furthest.

For example, you can send strawberries with 5 days of shelf life to a nearby store and those with 11 days further.

Better in-store decisions

Produce managers spend much of their job assessing fresh produce to ensure it is still safe to eat. They often use sell-by dates to do this, but sell-by dates are conservative estimates.

Throwing away safe food leads to increased food waste and lower profits.

With shelf life prediction, produce managers can check a piece of produce and know if it is safe to sell. If it is close to expiring, they can sell it for a lower price.

Cost savings from reducing food waste

Food waste is a huge liability to most companies in the food supply chain. By predicting shelf life, you can make decisions that reduce food loss and waste.

Our food waste savings calculator can help you understand your potential savings.

When Can We Expect Shelf Life Prediction?

OneThird is developing technology for fresh produce shelf life prediction. We are undergoing promising trials with Genson, a supplier of Albert Heijn.

Our handheld spectrometers predict shelf life of a few fruits and vegetables. They use AI to measure within a day of accuracy. Our early adopters use them for a few fruits and vegetables already.

Trials have shown cost savings and reduced food waste. We expect demand for this technology to increase in the next 1-2 years as these become more important.

The UN’s deadline for halving food loss and waste is close. This is a way for companies in the supply chain to divert food waste and improve profit.

For now, you can read our Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

Summary

Spectroscopy has provided benefits to the food industry for over 30 years. Many people trust it for key operations as well.

Shelf life prediction and on-demand quality assessment are newer applications of the technology. The data they provide can cut food loss/waste and the associated costs.

Spectral data analysis and handheld spectrometers continue to improve. They will help solve big challenges the food and agriculture industry faces.

You can learn more about OneThird’s solutions for growers, distributors, and retailers.

Feel free to contact us if you think you see benefits from shelf life prediction in your company.

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alesha hartley

alesha hartley

We sat down with Alesha Hartley, a sustainable food systems advocate, to talk about the food waste issue, how everyone can help, and the future of the food system.

Q: What’s your background and experience with sustainable food systems?

I worked in the food and beverage industry for a long time as a pastry chef, where I saw a lot of food waste firsthand in hotels and restaurants. Because of this I decided to transition to the sustainability side of the food system and have since received my Master’s Degree in Food Studies from NYU.

I have worked on many food waste and sustainability-related projects and I have volunteered as a food waste advisor.

 

Q: What’s your motivation for working to reduce food waste?

There are four reasons why I’m trying to reduce food waste. To help hungry people, to benefit the environment, to help companies save costs from wasted food and to help generate economic activity.

 

Q: What’s your proudest accomplishment in this space?

My proudest moment was volunteering for the sustainability board in my town. The board consisted of multiple stakeholders, including members from the municipality. I was able to present food waste reduction strategies for use in local schools. I was connected with a local teacher and taught her how to do an ad-hoc waste assessment to gather data to add to our presentation to the Board of Education.

This made me proud because I could teach someone something and they could take this knowledge to others- creating a butterfly effect that activated others. Through this experience, it gave me great joy to hear that the students got excited about reducing food waste.

 

Q: What is the most shocking thing you’ve learned while fighting this issue?

It’s hard to pick just one because there are so many.

The first that comes to mind is that food waste occurs in every country, including developing ones. In developed countries, it’s more common for waste to occur at the end of the supply chain while developing countries suffer loss in the storage and distribution phases of the supply chain.

The next that sticks out is that date labels are not indicative of food safety, but rather food quality. This has lead to a huge amount of confusion and wasted food.

 

Q: What do you think it will take to halve food loss and waste by 2030?

The coronavirus pandemic has upended a lot of the data that was being collected. Regardless, it will take a coalition of everyone in the supply chain and people of multidisciplinary educational backgrounds coming together. It will take a collective and diverse effort from people including consumers and entrepreneurs to create lasting change.

For example, including people with a non-traditional background in Food Studies, HR, or Educational Design would provide benefits. Governments must play a role in solution development to unlock new opportunities and provide incentives for reducing food waste.

I want everyone to know that it is DOABLE. Many people think of sustainability as unattainable or something far off in the distance, but we all can just take baby steps first. Is baby steps for you just a new recipe to use broccoli stems? It’s an improvement.

Start where you feel you can create the biggest impact for the least effort. Then build upon those baby steps every time you incorporate another form of sustainability to your life. It does not have to be expensive. People have the power to change if they’re willing to and are enabled to.

(Author’s note: We have created the 30 Day Food Waste Challenge so anybody can learn new ways to reduce food waste)

Q: Let’s say we meet the UN’s goal and halve food waste by 2030- what will still need to be done? 

We will still need to keep doing the same thing as we did in the first half. We will not be done. We should celebrate, but continue and remain diligent.

If we get to 100% waste reduction we have to set up systems to maintain it. It’s like working out. If you stop once you reach your target weight then you will gain back the weight you lost. 

To stay at 100%, it will be based on sustainable, diverse supply chains with increased diversification of the food we eat. This will improve supply chain resiliency in both developed and developing countries. We also need to keep coalitions funded and not give up! Consumer education campaigns must also be continued to teach the new people that are born. 

 

Q: Where do you think shelf life prediction could play an impact in areas you have worked in? 

This could be a game-changing disruption. Date labeling is subjective and not scientific. If we can leverage this type of technology to better pinpoint when an item will expire, then that has the potential to support a date label’s ability to then reflect a food’s level of SAFETY.

An important note of caution is it has to be accurate. Otherwise, it could contribute to food waste.

However, it could have immense benefits. One example would be informing the procurement manager of a restaurant that an item is near expiration. They can then inform the chef who can then get a special out immediately to get it sold and in the belly of customers.

 

Q: Do you feel any other messages are important alongside reducing food waste? 

We all need to think about strengthening and creating resilience in the food system. This includes not only economic development, but also creating biological diversity. We are only eating a few crops. Diversity helps farms and helps us get more nutrients in our diets.

We need to seek out advice from indigenous partners. They have been cultivating this land for thousands of years and are great stewards of it. 

The best way for consumers to help is to educate themselves on what indigenous crops are. Then vote with your fork (and dollar) because stores carry what people want to buy.  

 

Q: What is one thing you wish everyone would do or at least consider? 

 What is the smallest baby step you can start with right now and incorporate? Even if you don’t believe in climate change, what is one thing you can do to help the environment or live a healthy life for yourself?

In terms of food waste, meal planning is my recommended first step. We tend to pick up more than we actually need. Shop with a list and meals in mind that you know you will make so you don’t overbuy.

 

Q: Do you have any closing words?

Food insecurity is real. Climate change is real. Reducing food waste can help both of these. With the COVID-19 crisis, food insecurity will only get worse. We need to get food into the bellies of people in need. Tackling food insecurity and waste will bring about a sense of pride in doing something bigger than yourself and doing your part as a human to help the human race move forward.

 

Q: If people want to get into contact with you, what is the best way to reach out? 

Contacting me through LinkedIn would be my preferred method of contact. 

 

 

Thank you Alesha for the meaningful conversation about sustainable food systems. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit our blog.

 

 

 

map of food donation programs in US

Why Food Donation Programs are Important

In 2015, 42.2 million individuals, including 13.1 million children, were food insecure in the United States. Food insecure individuals are defined as those who lack access to a sufficient amount of food to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Additionally, about 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted. Diverting edible food that would otherwise be wasted by households and businesses to food-insecure individuals via food donation programs contributes to hunger relief efforts and reduces food waste.

The UN has called on all of us to halve global food loss and waste by 2030. Further, reducing food waste is one of the major sustainability goals laid out by the UN in Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

Find a Program Near You

There are many ways to contribute to food donation programs in the U.S. One may choose to volunteer their time, donate food, or gift money. Donating excess food to local programs is a great way to reduce food waste.

We created this map of food donation programs, including statewide food bank associations and some local food banks and pantries, to help find one near you.

Map of Food Donation Programs in the U.S.

Follow these hyperlinks to find resources in Alaska and Hawaii.

Please note that markers on this map may indicate food bank networks or a statewide resource, so markers surrounding your area may be applicable to you.

Food Donation Programs Accept Canned Goods

What Happens if Food I Donate Makes Someone Sick?

Many food industry business owners do not donate excess food for fear of legal liability. To combat these concerns, the U.S. Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 and the Food Donation Act of 2017. These acts were designed to protect companies upon making food donations to non-profit organizations, even if those donations cause harm to any recipients.

To learn more about both of these acts protecting those who donate food, read our post on legal protections for those donating food.

Additional Resources

To find local food banks, pantries, and donation centers check out these resources:

https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank

https://www.foodpantries.org/

OneThird is a member of Friends of Champions 12.3. We are helping to halve global food loss and waste by 50% by 2030. We work with growers, shippers, distributors, and retailers to reduce food waste by measuring shelf life. If you are interested, you can contact us via our form or email us directly at info@onethird.io.

 

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food donation

Food is Wasted While People Go Hungry

Food waste is a well-known issue and many of us are contributing to the problem without thinking much of it. However, how is it that 11% of the world’s population is hungry and we are tossing out so much food? There is a large disparity and an obvious gap here that must be bridged. Much of this is a result of people worrying they will be sued for donating food.

Much of the food wasted in the food supply chain goes to anaerobic digestion or energy recovery. While this is better than going into a landfill, on the food recovery hierarchy pyramid, food waste prevention and redistribution are above it. This means that donating food to those in need has a better socioeconomic and environmental impact.

Documentaries, such as Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, have been made where people live, and even gain weight, off of dumpster-diving at food distributors and retailers. There is plenty of healthy food out there to feed the hungry. This post is to help tackle the fears involved with donating food to help benefit the planet and those around us. 

Where do Fears of Donating Food Come From?

A lot of the fears have to do with hurting those we donate to and difficulty in finding where/how to donate extra food. However, there are solutions for both of these problems as these concerns have been voiced by numerous organizations and people as the food waste and food insecurity issues linger on.

“What if Someone Gets Sick from Food I Donate?”

Thankfully, the US government has considered these fears and in 1996 enacted the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. In simple terms, it protects you when donating to a non-profit organization, even if the product is to cause someone harm (which of course we all hope doesn’t happen!).

Companies were still hesitant to donate after the passing of this law because it had not been tested in court yet (which also shows how grateful people are to just be receiving food and how rare legal action really is). The liability protections were expanded for “qualified direct donors” with the passing of the Food Donation Act of 2017 to combat these fears and eliminate even more hesitations. 

What About in Europe?

The story in Europe is unfortunately not so nice, as Italy is the only European country to currently have a good Samaritan act in place to protect those who donate food from legal action. There have been discussions at the EU level to enact similar laws, but sadly none have passed yet.

The Benefits of Donating Food

Donating food to those in need is a rewarding activity that greatly benefits society. A large portion of the world does not know when their next meal will be. Empowering people in need and providing them with the energy they need to live a healthy life pays countless dividends.

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was created to protect companies and people from repercussions to helping those around us in need. Let’s trust this protection and make the most of the extra food that we have!

“How Should I Go About Donating Food?”

The most popular and well-connected food donation non-profit in the US is Feeding America. This is a network of over 200 food banks and has fed more than 46 million people to date. Their app, MealConnect, allows you to link your food donations with local nonprofits for free, as well. It’s never been easier than now to donate food to our food-insecure neighbors. We have legal protections in place. Let’s make the situation better together!

OneThird has also created a Food Donation Program Map to find the one nearest to you.

Summary

Many people fear legal action and potential guilt from donating food that may harm someone. However, there are legal protections in place in America (and a few in Europe) formed to prevent this fear. A large portion of people in the world is food insecure. And the chances that they would sue from someone graciously gifting them food is either nonexistent or extremely low.

There are a number of resources to find programs to donate to around you, so it’s really easy to do!

 

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.  Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  This website contains links to other third-party websites.  Such links are only for the convenience of the reader, user or browser.