Innovative packages are the key in the fight against food loss and wastage. More effective barrier layers, germicidal films and freshness indicators are intended to help products to keep for longer and stop consumers’ throwaway mentality. However, despite all these improvements, companies have to keep a constant eye on process efficiency and on costs.
In the developing countries, one out of six children is undernourished, which amounts to an overall figure of 100 million. The United Nations (UN) estimates that undernourishment causes the deaths of 2.6 million children under five years old per year. This means that hunger is still one of the biggest scourges of humanity.
Every year, some 1.3 billion tons of food worldwide end up being thrown away, according to the report “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources” of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Fifty-four percent of wasted food, says the report, is lost during production, post-harvest treatment and storage.
Particularly badly affected are the poorer countries of Africa and Asia, where shortcomings during harvesting and logistics destroy six to 11 kilograms of food per capita each year. Exposed to heat, fruit and milk spoil, and meat is rendered inedible by contamination with dangerous germs. On the other hand, wastage during processing, transport and consumption is more a problem of the industrialized nations. In Europe and North America, some 100 kilograms of food are thrown away per person each year, although it is still fit for consumption. Demands for a change of attitude are coming from the highest authorities. At his general audience during World Environment Day last June, Pope Francis called for an end to consumerism and the wastage of food.
Central theme of interpack 2014
Industry has already got the message. According to a current study by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, suitable packages are capable of considerably reducing food loss. Developers are working hard on new concepts for packaging machines, the related process technology and “smart” packages. A total of 100 companies from the entire food value chain, from production, retailing and packaging through to logistics, are now participating in the SAVE FOOD Initiative, a joint project of the FAO, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Messe Düsseldorf GmbH. Its goal is to foster dialogue between industry, research, the political sphere and civil society on the subject of food loss. Reducing spoilage also will be the central theme at the Innovationparc Packaging at the trade fair interpack PROCESSES AND PACKAGING 2014, in Düsseldorf, Germany. Exhibitors at this Innovationparc from May 8 – 14, 2014 will present their ideas on how food can be protected better. Furthermore, during the SAVE FOOD Conference at Messe Düsseldorf’s Congress Center South on May 7 and 8, 2014, experts from politics, industry and society will be exchanging views on food loss and wastage.
The sector has a lot of work ahead of it. Farmers in Africa first must be convinced it is better to package their produce at source than to send it off unprotected. It is not high tech that is called for, but local education. Representatives of companies like Bosch toured emerging and developing countries with mobile packaging machines in order to demonstrate to farmers the advantages of packaged foods.
The throwaway mentality of the Western world is even more difficult to combat. According to a survey by Berndt + Partner management consultants, 20 – 25 percent of food in Europe is thrown away, even though it is still fit for consumption. One contributing factor is the “best before date” that has to be printed on all food packages. Once it is reached, food is often discarded. However, “best before” does not mean that food is no longer edible after this date, but merely that its color and consistency may change. Widespread use of large packs worsen the problem. The best before date is often reached before the package contents have been consumed.
Smaller, customized packages should help to solve the problem. “In our view, portioned packages for one-person households, for example, can help to stem food wastage,” says Christian Traumann, Managing Director of packaging specialist MULTIVAC Sepp Haggenmüller.